Samsung (NASDAQOTH:SSNLF) has already released another version of its Galaxy S6.
Launched last month, the Galaxy S6 Active is a more robust version of Samsung's flagship smartphone. It's water-, dust-, and shock-resistant, and it comes equipped with a larger battery and a new shortcut button. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) competing iPhone 6 notably lacks all of these features -- but Samsung's latest phone seems unlikely to dent Apple's business.
Solving some of the Galaxy S6's issues
Although Samsung's Galaxy S6 was widely praised ahead of its April release, the phone drew some sharp criticism from longtime Samsung customers. With the S6, Samsung favored design over utility, sealing in the battery and removing the SD card slot. A removable battery and expandable storage are useful features, and Samsung had been offering them to its customers since the Galaxy brand's inception in 2010. Samsung also moved away from water and dust resistance, two perks it had less of a history with but that it had built into its previous flagship, the Galaxy S5.
The S6 Active still lacks a removable battery, and there's no way to expand its storage, but owners can take it for a swim. It's waterproof at a depth of up to three feet, and Samsung claims its sturdy frame can withstand drops of up to four-feet. It also has a specialized side button known as the Active Key. Press it quickly and it launches a Samsung-made, fitness-orientated app called Activity Zone. Press and hold it and it will launch a customized app of the user's choosing. Samsung has increased the battery's capacity by nearly 40% (from 2550mAh to 3500mAh) giving it hours of additional screen time.
All those extra features have come at a cost. Style is certainly subjective, but the S6 Active is unlikely to win many design awards. It's also thicker and heavier. Perhaps most notably, Samsung has dropped the S6's well-received fingerprint scanner. The standard Galaxy S6 offers three different storage capacities (32GB, 64GB, and 128GB), but the Active is only offered with 32GB.
Apple's customers have long ignored battery life and durability
But the Galaxy S6 Active's biggest problem may be its distribution: at least for the time being, it's an AT&T exclusive just like its predecessors. The Galaxy S6 Active isn't the first Active Galaxy the company has released -- it launched S4 Active in 2013 and the S5 Active in 2014. Like the S6 Active, those handsets were far more durable than Samsung's equivalent flagships, but were released in limited quantities and confined to AT&T (the S4 Active and S5 Active eventually made it to foreign markets, but only after several months).
Apple has never bothered to release a rugged version of its competing iPhone. It uses the latest version of Gorilla Glass with each new model, but has never made it a point to significantly improve durability. Until the iPhone 6, Apple had equipped each iPhone with a similar-sized battery.
Smartphone buyers haven't cared. iPhone shipments have grown almost continuously since the device's debut -- Apple's last two quarters were the best in the iPhone's history. Third-party accessory manufacturers, such as Morphie and Otterbox, have stepped up, offering cases that solve many of the iPhone's durability and battery life shortcomings.
Two different directions
Apple's iPhone business continues to grow. Last quarter, iPhone shipments rose a staggering 40% on an annual basis, and they may have risen another 40% in the current quarter if analyst estimates prove accurate. Strong iPhone sales have propelled Apple's profits, and lifted its stock to an all-time high.
Samsung, in contrast, has struggled. Its earnings have been in decline for nearly a year. Last quarter, profit from its mobile division fell 57%. Samsung will release its current-quarter earnings at the end of the month, and while analysts expect a rebound, expectations for the Galaxy S6 have softened. Analysts at KTB Investment now expect Samsung to ship 45 million Galaxy S6s this year, down from 49 million.
The Galaxy S6 Active has received rave reviews, and like Samsung's standard Galaxy S6, offers many features Apple's competing iPhone can't offer. But given its limitations, Samsung's latest phone doesn't seem likely to halt the trends affecting both companies.