In the premium smartphone wars, it appears competition is increasing between Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) as differences between the companies' signature product lines narrow. Late last year, Apple rolled out the iPhones with the largest screens yet -- the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 and the 5.5-inch 6 Plus -- to mitigate the Samsung Galaxy's 5.1-inch-size advantage.
The iPhone's larger form factor has proven a huge success, leading Apple to two straight quarters of 50%-plus year-over-year iPhone revenue growth.
Recently, Samsung returned the favor by taking heavy design cues from the iPhone when designing the newest iterations of its Galaxy line -- the S6 and S6 Edge -- replacing its former plastic removable backing with a premium-build unibody design. It's still early, but Samsung is decidedly upbeat about the new iterations' prospects.
In the interim, Samsung no longer commands the phablet market as the iPhone 6 Plus found a more receptive audience than the Galaxy Note 4 phablet, claiming 44% market share in the first quarter of 2015. Samsung, though, appears to be looking to reverse this trend.
A rumored new release date to pre-empt Apple
Unlike Apple's dual-phone release, Samsung typically releases its Note phablet (read: devices larger than 5.5 inches) phones on a different schedule than its normal smartphone units. Generally, Samsung releases the Note in late September or October -- very close to Apple's new refresh -- then introduces regular Galaxy refreshes in April. However, if the latest rumors are true, it appears Samsung is deviating from this release schedule for the Galaxy Note 5.
Specifically, the Korean website Whowired claimed Samsung will release the next phablet unit in July, with consumers able to preorder the device as early as June. Many are reporting this is an attempt to pre-empt Apple's next-generation iPhone Plus unit, and perhaps that's true. In any case, if Samsung refreshes the model sooner than expected it could be a positive sign for the company's shareholders.
Demand, meet supply
As design and build quality were the biggest differences between the new Galaxy S6 iteration and its S5 predecessor, the Galaxy Note 4 could be considered a small movement toward the S6 in design. The Note kept the removable plastic cover, microSD slot, and battery featured in the Galaxy S5 while replacing the faux metal bezel with an actual metal ring. The Galaxy S6 release would build upon the metal bezel with a glass unibody while losing the removable battery and microSD slot.
If Samsung's internal metrics are showing strong support for the new models, redesigning its phablet with a similar design as soon as possible makes perfect sense to compete with Apple's iPhone 6 Plus and its follow-up offering. If so, it's entirely possible that Samsung's new unit loses the microSD slot and the S-pen stylus the Galaxy Note line has been known for, essentially becoming like Apple's iPhone line in which the key difference between the standard smartphone and its phablet is simply screen size.
In the end, that might be better for Samsung. The Note has always seemed to be a forgotten product compared to its Galaxy line, particularly from a marketing standpoint, and even more so considering Apple's iPhone 6 Plus success. If the rumors are true, it could signify both a positive reception for the current Galaxy line and more commitment to Samsung's phablet.