SK Telecom and Samsung reckon we need 8K TV over 5G

Korean tech giant Samsung has teamed up with compatriot operator SK Telecoms to develop what they claim will be the world’s first 5G 8K TV.

On one level this should just be as simple as whacking a 5G modem into an 8K telly, but there seems to be more to it than that, hence the announcement. SK Telecom says that only when it applies mobile edge computing and network-based media processing to its 5G network will it be able to achieve seamless transmission of 8K video. The fact that those sorts of technologies are in the 5G roadmap anyway is beside the point.

Which brings us to the likely real reason for this announcement: to generate positive publicity for both companies. 5G has long been in danger of being a technological solution in search of a problem and the same could certainly be said of 8K video, in a world that is still trying to work out whether it sees much value in 4K.

“The 5G-8K TV is the culmination of ultra-low latency 5G networks combined with ultra-high definition TV technology,” said Park Jin-hyo, CTO and Head of ICT R&D Center at SK Telecom. “5G technology will help make the world of hyper media a reality.” Hyper media seems to refer to telly augmented by all kinds of other internet gimmickry.

Short of producing a 5G dongle it’s not clear what Samsung is bringing to the project other than cash and its consumer electronics brand. Nowhere is it explained why it’s preferable to deliver all this hyper media goodness over 5G rather than fibre, nor is it openly discussed what the minimum screen size would be beneath which the human eye is unable to discern any difference between 4K and 8K. But these are just details that shouldn’t detract from our jubilation that the 5G 8K era is almost upon us.

Samsung unveils its first 5G integrated chipset for smartphones

Samsung Electronics introduced Exynos 980, its first 5G integrated mobile chipset for the mainstream market. Mass production will start by the end of the year.

Samsung’s 5G devices have so far been using separate modem and APE solutions, including its own Exynos 9820 and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 chipsets teamed up with the Exynos 5100 and Snapdragon X50 modems. The new 5G integrated chipset announced today is Samsung’s first. With an 8nm footprint, the chipset combines the 5G modem and APE processors using 8nm FinFET process.

“With the introduction of our 5G modem last year, Samsung has been driving in the 5G revolution and paved the way towards the next step in mobility,” said Ben Hur, VP of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics. “With the 5G-integrated Exynos 980, Samsung is pushing to make 5G more accessible to a wider range of users and continues to lead innovation in the mobile 5G market.”

The chipset’s key specifications include:

  • Modem: supports 5G NR Sub-6GHz with max 2.55Gbps downlink and 1.28Gbps uplink speeds. It is also backward compatible with LTE, 3G, and 2G.
  • CPU: one 2.2GHz Dual-core based on Cortex-A77, and one set of 1.8GHz Hexa-core based on Cortex-A55. It may be worth noting that Samsung’s high-end Exynos 9820 can go up to a max speed of 2.73 GHz.
  • Camera support: single-camera up to 108Mp, or dual-camera 20MP+20MP. Samsung also stresses the integrated AI capability to support photo taking.
  • Video support: 4K UHD 120fps encoding and decoding with HEVC(H.265), H.264, VP9

Samsung said in the announcement that the mass production of Exynos 980 is expected to start by the end of this year, indicating Samsung 5G smartphones and tablets based on this new chipset will hit the market in the first half of 2020, if not the first quarter.

One day earlier, Samsung announced Galaxy A90 5G, a mid-range 5G smartphone, based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 platform, which is aimed at taking 5G to the mainstream users. The new Exynos 980 is likely to power the next generation of mid-range devices.

The 5G momentum in South Korea, Samsung’s home market, has been going strong. After registering 1 million subscribers by the beginning of June, government data showed that by the end of July the total number of 5G subscribers, from all three operators combined, already topped 2 million.

Here is Exynos 980’s promotion video:

 

Nokia found to be best brand for prompt Android updates

There is significant variation in the performance of the leading Android smartphone makers when it comes to updating Android, according to new research.

Counterpoint has crunched the numbers and concluded that among all Android handset brands Nokia (manufactured by HMD Global) is the quickest and best at rolling out new versions of Android to its users after Google has issued them. Samsung Xiaomi and Huawei also do a decent job of serving their customers on this matter, but after them there’s a significant drop off.

Counterpoint android update chart

“Operating system and security updates are an aspect of Android smartphones that get relatively little attention,” said Peter Richardson of Counterpoint. “In our experience researching the industry, we have seen a few brands focusing on this. And perhaps because manufacturers are not talking about it, consumer awareness is also low. It doesn’t appear among the ten features consumers say they care about most, in our research.

“Unsurprisingly, therefore, little effort is expended by the top manufacturers in focusing on regular updates to the operating system and device security, despite it being a critical element in the continued safe performance of the smartphone. Many of the key features including battery life, processor, camera and memory are linked to the performance of the underlying operating system. We believe it is important to the overall consumer experience and is likely to become more widely recognized as such.”

This is a good point – what incentive is there for Android smartphone makers, who already operate on very thin margins and see Google and other OTTs hoover up most of the subsequence service revenue, to invest in something that has little apparent effect on sales? The main commercial answer would have to be brand reputation and things like NPS. Presumably prompt updates to yield some ongoing brand benefits and at least increase customer loyalty to some extent.

“High-priced devices are often updated first, but having the latest software is as important to mid- and low-priced products as it is to flagship devices,” said Abhilash Kumar of Counterpoint. “We, therefore, looked at manufacturers’ performance at updating software across all price tiers. By this analysis, Nokia stands out, again, as the brand most likely to update its full portfolio quickly.

Xiaomi and Lenovo also rank high in this metric. Brands like Alcatel and Tecno are the laggards. This is because these brands have broad portfolios, mostly in the sub-US$200 segment, and the lifecycle of their models tends to be short. Their products often transition from launch to end-of-life in as little as six months, which means they have less incentive to provide long-term updates.”

It seems likely that most brands are fairly prompt in updating their flagship devices but many drag their feet when it comes to the cheaper ones. As well as the reasons detailed above there’s the fact that the cheaper a device the more commo0ditised it is, making anything other than the core hardware feature set even less of a factor in purchasing decisions. That makes Samsung’s performance especially impressive since it has such a large device portfolio across all price tiers.

Ericsson and Nokia up their R&D game to compound Huawei misery

Whenever Huawei is facing scrutiny, rivals simply have to sit back and reap the benefits, though Ericsson and Nokia are upping the focus on research and development to compound the gains.

This is the opportunity which is being presented to Huawei’s rivals. When it is banned from certain markets, there is a gain. When there are security concerns shown, there is a gain. When there are questions about the resilience of the supply chain, there is a gain. All the likes of Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung have to do is sit back and do what they have been doing for years. The worse beating Huawei takes, the better their alternative looks.

What is clear is these companies will have to be as careful when capitalising on the misfortune, tip toeing over broken glass as gunfire rages overhead. Just look at the trouble Nokia CTO Marcus Weldon got himself in when criticising Huawei a couple of months back.

However, looking more closely at the financial reports of the rivals, there is perhaps evidence of an attempt to compound the gains by increasing R&D investments. There are of course numerous reasons why this would be done.

Firstly, if Huawei is considered the market leader for radio and transmission equipment, this is an opportunity to close the gap. Secondly, this is a chance to seize the initiative in the 5G race while the reputation of Huawei is picking up dents. Looking at the numbers, this story becomes a bit more apparent.

Vendor R&D investment as % of total revenues
Huawei c.15%
ZTE 14.9%
Nokia 21.2%
Ericsson 18%

The numbers above are taken for the first six months of 2019. Huawei hasn’t given numbers for the first half, only a full year commitment, so this is more of a rough guess. Samsung does not break-out financials for its network equipment division, keeping up its reputation for being less-than-transparent, so it is difficult to offer a comparison.

Including Samsung with the other four major network infrastructure providers might raise some eyebrows, but with a strong 5G RAN product Samsung now deserves to dine at the top table according to Heavy Reading Analyst Gabriel Brown, particularly in markets where it has made long-term, sustained investment in R&D and in customer support, such as the US, India and South Korea.

After years of investment and working to meet customer requirements, the US market offers promise to Samsung. Without Huawei and ZTE in the game, operators are looking for credible alternatives to the Nokia and Ericsson duopoly in RAN, while its Korean domestic market clearly offers some wins. There is a clear opportunity for growth, though as Brown points out, there are other considerations.

In terms of the 5G RAN, Samsung has competitive base station products according to Brown. However, it doesn’t necessarily have the breadth of portfolio, relationships or footprint to compete globally. Brown stated this is often an area which is underestimated and is expensive to build-up and maintain. Outside of its priority markets Samsung does not have the local support that telcos have come to expect nor the long-term in-country presence that gives operators confidence to do business.

However, it is still an opportunity, with the team is making the right noises, producing the right demonstrations and making the right connections to grow and claim market share.

The numbers above are taken for the first six months of 2019. Huawei hasn’t given numbers for the first half, only a full year commitment, so this is more of a rough guess. Samsung does not break-out financials for its 5G network equipment division, keeping up its reputation for being less-than-transparent, so it is difficult to offer a comparison.

Including Samsung with the other four major network infrastructure providers might raise a few eyebrows but work done over the last few years has raised their game. According to Heavy Reading Analyst Gabriel Brown, Samsung now deserves to dine at the top table, with strong focus on the US, India and South Korea.

Samsung is a company which is clearly benefiting from the Huawei misery. The US is a market which will offer promise to Samsung, though it will have some difficulties considering an ex-CEO of Ericsson is in charge at Verizon, while its domestic market clearly offers some wins. There is a clear opportunity for growth, though as Brown points out, there are other considerations.

In terms of the 5G base station product, Samsung is up there with the best according to Brown, though as it doesn’t necessarily have the relationships or product inventory in place it might struggle in certain areas. Brown stated this is often an area which is underestimated, as Samsung may well struggle to meet the timelines demanded by telcos in Switzerland or Columbia (for example). It doesn’t have the ‘feet on the ground’ or scaled manufacturing experience of its rivals, an element many telcos will have come to expect.

However, it is still an opportunity and the team is making the right noises, producing the right figures and making the right connections to grow and claim market share.

Back to the R&D investments, this is an important metric to judge vendors by and will gain interest from potential customers. At Ericsson, the 18.7% ratio invested in R&D is certainly an increase from the 14% and 15% it spent in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Nokia’s investments are also up from this period, though it has consistently hovered around this level. As a percentage of net sales, R&D accounted for 20.5% and 21.2% for 2018 and 2017 respectively at Nokia.

Although both of these firms are leaping ahead when it comes to the percentage, another factor that you have to take into account is that Huawei is spending more in real terms.

Vendor Total R&D investment in US$
Huawei $8.38 billion
ZTE $900 million
Ericsson $1.93 billion
Nokia $2.53 billion

While Huawei is vastly exceeding the amount spent by its rivals, it has a much broader scope. Ericsson focuses on mobile predominantly, while Nokia has both mobile and fixed businesses, as well as licencing payments from its former glory days as a leading mobile phone manufacturer.

Huawei has its fingers in a lot more pies. Not only does it focus on both mobile and fixed, it also has a subsea cable business and an enterprise unit, while the consumer group is now the largest contributor to total revenues. Looking at the consumer unit alone, Huawei will be investing R&D funds into smartphones, laptops, wearable devices and a new operating system to potentially replace Google’s Android.

This $8.38 billion figure should always be considered when comparing the R&D investments from all the rivals, but it should also be weighed against the broader business exposure Huawei as.

There are of course numerous factors to consider when judging who is winning the 5G race, geopolitical trends are close to the top of the list, but the percentage of revenues being attributed to R&D is another very important one. Although these numbers do not tell the whole story, perhaps it does indicate rivals are attempting to make the most of Huawei’s misery while they have a chance.

US wearables market surges to $2bn in Q2

After years of letting the industry down, the wearables segment has seemingly finally got its act together, with sales totalling $2 billion in the second quarter of 2019.

According to estimates from Canalys, shipments in the second quarter increased 38% year-on-year to 7.7 million devices, with Apple leading the market share rankings, though homage should be paid to Samsung. The Korean brand saw shipments more than double, 121% year-on-year increase, to roughly 800,000 devices.

“Smartwatch vendors are increasingly getting nearer the bullseye – hitting the right price point in a way that spurs massive demand,” said

“With Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch branding in place, and showing robust performance, the company has moved to cultivate a fitness-focused line-up with the Galaxy Watch Active series, with prices between $200 and $300.

“Packing features into a compact form factor that has an appealing design is challenging but rewarding. Samsung most recently showcased these capabilities with its latest Watch Active 2 series, though other vendors are close behind.”

Of course, this market has offered many false dawns for the excitable industry on the whole, and Samsung has been one of the contributors to this trauma. Despite having a leadership position in the smartphone space, Samsung has struggled to translate this into the wearables market, though these numbers suggest the Korean brand has turned a corner.

Overall, this is a very promising trend to keep an eye on. There is a huge amount of potential for the wearables market, especially now more connectivity and entertainment options can be embedded into the products.

This is perhaps what has stuttered enthusiasm for these products over the last few years. They are functional products, few would suggest smartwatches can compete with traditional time pieces from a fashion perspective, though the functionality was never enough to justify the financial outlay. Introducing stand-alone connectivity and embedded more features is addressing this challenge, while the progress of the voice user interface will add another element.

Interestingly enough, this might just be the tip of the iceberg. The more normalised smartwatch devices become, the more open consumers will be to other connected devices. It might not be too-long before we are talking about LTE-connected glasses or headphones to act as an alternative to communications devices.

Samsung and Xiaomi benefit from Huawei misery

US aggression towards Huawei seems to be paying-off as smartphone shipments in Europe swing away from the Chinese vendor, towards Samsung and Xiaomi.

Although Huawei is still a profitable and growing company, some might fear this growth is too concentrated on the Chinese market thanks to US attempts to damage credibility internationally. According to Canalys estimates, this could be the case, with European smartphone purchases shifting away from the previously surging Huawei brand and towards rivals Samsung and Xiaomi.

“For years, a focus on operating profit has stifled its product strategy,” said Analyst Ben Stanton. “But this year, the shackles are off, and winning back market share is its clear priority. But its success is not solely due to product strategy.

“Samsung has been quick to capitalize on Huawei’s US Entity List problems, working behind the scenes to position itself as a stable alternative in conversations with important retailers and operators.

“A lack of brand loyalty among users of low-end and mid-range Android smartphones, which has blighted Samsung for so long, has become the catalyst for its best performance in years. Europe keeps its reputation as one of the most brand-volatile smartphone markets in the world, rife with danger, but also opportunity.”

As you can see from the table below, the instability of the European market is living up to its reputation.

Brand Q2 2019 Shipments (millions) Q2 2019 market share Annual change
Samsung 18.3 40.6% +20%
Huawei 8.5 18.8% -16%
Apple 6.4 14.1% -17%
Xiaomi 4.3 9.6% +48%
HMD 1.2 2.7% -18%
Others 6.4 7.7% -17%
Total 45.1

Looking at the shift, there is clearly homage being paid to the troubles of the Chinese vendor.

Last month, Huawei unveiled its financial results for the first six months of 2019 with a 23% year-on-year increase. It did appear many of the gains, including in the fast-growing consumer business unit, were in its domestic Chinese market and this research from Canalys backs-up the assumption, at least for smartphones.

Perhaps this also demonstrates the smartphone has become merely a vessel for bigger and better things. With marginal differentiation between flagship devices nowadays, Huawei made gains with products which met consumer expectations but undercut rivals on price. This pricing strategy was paired with an aggressive above-the-line advertising campaign through football sponsorship and traditional advertising to build brand credibility.

However, the White House endorsed propaganda campaign seems to be hitting home. The only difference between now and 2018 is the dents to Huawei’s credibility. It appears European consumers are much more Android-loyal than they are to the smartphone brand.

The beneficiaries of this fall from favour has been Samsung and Xiaomi. Canalys claims three of the top five selling devices in the European market were Samsung, reasserting its dominance, though Xiaomi has continued its impressive rise through the ranks. This might be down to two reasons.

Firstly, Xiaomi’s reputation as a more price-aware brand is clearly catching-on. The Chinese challenger has been making promising gains in some of the developing markets, India is a prime example, though it has managed to position itself as a cheap but reliable alternative for cash-conscious consumers in the European market also. A 48% year-on-year gain is impressive in anyone’s eyes.

Secondly, telcos and distributors might be pushing Xiaomi and alternative Android devices more heavily through advertising campaigns. The more Android fanboys who are turned-off by Huawei, the more prominent Samsung becomes. The more prominent Samsung becomes, the greater its weight during negotiations with channel partners. A market dominant smartphone brand is not good for any of the telcos or the distributors.

The Apple decline is certainly an interesting one also. This is traditionally a quiet quarter for the iLeader, with flagship devices usually launched in September, though a 17% decline is a worrying sign for executives. With the fall in smartphone shipments significantly below the global total decline, either the iCultists are becoming much more price-sensitive, or they are being tempted by Android rivals. Neither is good news.

The global smartphone market is in decline currently, which is perhaps down to two factors more than anything else. Firstly, the current 5G hype might have consumers delaying the purchase of a new device, and secondly, the high-prices of largely uninspiring smartphones might be encouraging longer replacement cycles.

There will of course be numerous other factors to consider, but one thing is clear, some brands are negotiating the baron times much more successfully than others.

Samsung seeks to improve its productivity offering by cozying up to Microsoft

One of the more interesting parts of the Galaxy Note 10 launch was the announcement of a productivity partnership with Microsoft.

This seems to be more of a general increase in cooperation than anything substantively new. The aim of the move is to make it easier to switch between Samsung devices when using Microsoft stuff, such as the Office suite. Samsung does the full monty of devices that could be used for productivity, from laptops to smartphones, and reckons there’s untapped demand for switching between them as circumstances and whim dictate.

“We believe the mobile industry is on the cusp of a transformation, one in which individual devices give way to seamless, connected and continuous experiences, wherever we go,” said DJ Koh, head of IT & Mobile Communications at Samsung. “Open collaborations, like this industry-leading partnership with Microsoft, are instrumental in pioneering a new generation of mobile experiences. As new technologies like 5G become a reality, our partnership will play an important role in helping people live more fluid, flexible lives.”

“Microsoft and Samsung share a long history of innovation and collaboration, and today’s announcements mark the next stage in our partnership,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Our ambition is to help people be more productive on any device, anywhere – and the combination of our intelligent experiences with Samsung’s powerful, new devices makes this a reality.”

“Samsung’s deepening partnership with Microsoft was arguably the biggest news at the event,” said Ben Wood of analyst firm CCS Insight. “Samsung Mobile’s relationship with Microsoft started in 2015 when it first offered a trio of Microsoft apps and OneDrive storage on the Galaxy S6. This was followed by a “Microsoft Edition” of the Galaxy S8 in 2017. Being able to wirelessly connect your smartphone directly to a PC running Windows at the touch of a button is a big step forward. The cooperation between Microsoft and Samsung is a potent combination. Samsung can deliver unrivalled reach in terms of hardware and scale, while Microsoft is the leader in enterprise apps.”

The announcement was made as part of the launch event for the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, Samsung’s Q3 flagship smartphone event. The point of the Note range used to be that it was significantly bigger than the Galaxy but that is no longer the case, so it looks like Samsung is trying to focus on the productivity side of the Note instead.

And they might as well, considering how difficult it is to generate any buzz around new smartphones that are usually little more than spec upgrades. Perhaps conscious of the fact that the regular Note 10 is just 0.2 inches bigger than the Galaxy S10 Samsung has decided to make a supersized option with the ‘plus’ suffix, which offers 6.8 inches of shiny smartphone action.

The other big differentiator for the Notes is the S Pen, a smart stylus that allows you to write on the device and that sort of thing. This ties in neatly to the productivity narrative, especially since the devices come with handwriting-to-text software and the S Pen even has some gesture UI functionality. As you would expect from the Microsoft announcement, the phones have quick links to Office apps.

At the same event Samsung Also launched a new laptop and some tweaks to its smartwatch range. As is often the case, at least some of Samsung’s strategy seems to be defensive, presumably in anticipation of whatever Apple is going to launch on the next month or two. Last year Apple revealed a supersized phone and has long focused on productivity. We’ll leave you with a vid of the launch event and some specs.

 

Galaxy Note10, Note10+ Specifications

    Galaxy Note10 Galaxy Note10+
Display 6.3-inch FHD+ 6.8-inch Quad HD+
Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O Display, 2280×1080 (401ppi), HDR10+ Certified Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O Display, 3040×1440 (498ppi), HDR10+ Certified
* Screen measured diagonally as a full rectangle without accounting for the rounded corners; actual viewable area is less due to the rounded corners and camera hole.
* Default resolution of the Galaxy Note10+ is full HD+, which can be changed to Quad HD+ in Settings.
Camera Rear: Triple Camera
– Ultra Wide: 16MP F2.2 (123°)
– Wide-angle: 12MP 2PD AF F1.5/F2.4 OIS (77°)
– Telephoto: 12MP F2.1 OIS (45°)
Rear: Quad Camera
– Ultra Wide: 16MP F2.2 (123°)
– Wide-angle: 12MP 2PD AF F1.5/F2.4 OIS (77°)
– Telephoto: 12MP F2.1 OIS (45°)
– DepthVision Camera: VGA
Front: 10MP 2PD AF F2.2 (80°) Front: 10MP 2PD AF F2.2 (80°)
Body 71.8 x 151.0 x 7.9mm, 168g
(BLE S Pen: 5.8 × 4.35 × 105.08mm, 3.04g)
77.2 x 162.3 x 7.9mm, 196g
(BLE S Pen: 5.8 × 4.35 × 105.08 3.04g)
* Galaxy Note10+ 5G weighs 198g.
AP - 7nm 64-bit Octa-core processor (Max. 2.8 GHz + 2.4 GHz + 1.7 GHz)
* May differ by market and mobile operator.
Memory - 8GB RAM with 256GB internal storage - 12GB RAM with 256GB internal storage
– 12GB RAM with 512GB internal storage
* May differ by model, color, market and mobile operator.
* User memory is less than the total memory due to storage of the operating system and software used to operate the device features. Actual user memory will vary depending on the operator and may change after software upgrades are performed.
Battery11 3,500mAh (typical) 4,300mAh(typical)
*Typical value tested under third-party laboratory condition. Typical value is the estimated average value considering the deviation in battery capacity among the battery samples tested under IEC 61960 standard. Rated (minimum) capacity is 3400mAh for Galaxy Note10 and 4170mAh for Galaxy Note10+. Actual battery life may vary depending on network environment, usage patterns, and other factors.
* Super Fast Charging compatible on wired with QC2.0, AFC and PD3.0
* Wireless charging speeds with Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 compatible with WPC and PMA
* Wireless PowerShare: Wireless PowerShare is limited to Samsung or other brand smartphones with WPC Qi wireless charging
OS Android 9.0 (Pie)
Network LTE Enhanced 4×4 MIMO, Up to 7CA, LAA, LTE Cat.20
– Up to 2.0Gbps Download / Up to 150Mbps Upload
* Actual speed may vary depending on market, carrier and user environment.
5G 5G Non Standalone (NSA)
*Requires optimal 5G connection. Actual spend may vary depending on market, mobile operator and user environment.
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz), VHT80 MU-MIMO, 1024QAM
– Up to 1.2Gbps Download / Up to 1.2Gbps Upload
*May differ by market and mobile operator.
Bluetooth® v 5.0, ANT+, USB Type-C, NFC, Location (GPS, Galileo*, Glonass, BeiDou*)
*Galileo and BeiDou coverage may be limited. BeiDou may not be available for certain markets.
Payment NFC, MST
*May differ by market, mobile operator and service providers.
Sensors Accelerometer, Barometer, Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor, Gyro Sensor, Geomagnetic Sensor, Hall Sensor, Proximity Sensor, RGB light sensor
(BLE S Pen: 6-axis Sensor including Gyro Sensor and Acceleration Sensor)
Authentication Lock Type: Pattern, PIN, Password
Biometric Lock Types: Fingerprint sensor, Face recognition
Audio Stereo speakers and earphones: Sound by AKG
(In-box earphones: Type-C plug, hybrid canal type, 2way dynamic unit)
Surround sound with Dolby Atmos technology (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus included)
Audio Playback Format: MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, DSF, DFF, APE
Video MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM

Apple continues to command the smartwatch market – report

Analysts believe Apple has increased its smartwatch shipments by 50% to capture a bigger share of an expanding market. The gap between the Apple Watch and the chasing pack is widening.

Unlike the contracting smartphone market, the smartwatch market is still experiencing fast growth, although the absolute volume is still small. According to data published by the research firm Strategy Analytics, 12.3 million smartwatches were sold in Q2, up by 44% from 8.6 million a year ago.

5.7 million pieces of Apple Watch were shipped in the quarter, up by 50% from 3.8 million in the same quarter last year, giving Apple, the run-away market leader, a 46.4% market share, up from 44.4%. The biggest market share gain, however, was registered by Samsung. The Galaxy Watch maker more than doubled its volume to 2.0 million from 0.9 million in Q2 2018 and took over the number two position on the leader board with a 15.9% share. Samsung’s gain was primarily at the expense of Fitbit, which saw its market sharing plunging from 15.2% a year ago to 9.2%.

“Fitbit has struggled to compete with Apple Watch at the higher end of the smartwatch market, while its new Versa Lite model has struggled to take-off at the lower end,” Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, commented on the competition dynamics. “Fitbit will have to move fast to execute a recovery, because Samsung, Garmin, Fossil and other competitors are keen to grab a slice of its valuable health and fitness customers.”

The research firm does not publish the value and value share of the smartwatch market, but it should be safe to estimate that Apple’s leading position would be more commanding if calculated in monetary terms, considering that Apple Watch is generally priced 40% higher than the Galaxy Watch with similar features, which in turn is generally more expensive than the smaller competitors.

Smartwatch market Q2'2019 SA

Although Apple does not break down sales income to product lines, “Wearables, Home and Accessories”, the business unit that includes the Watch, reported the highest growth (+48%) among all the business units in Apple’s Q2 results, and has overtaken the total revenues from the iPad unit.

Tim Cook, the CEO, is also banking high hopes on the Apple Watch for future growth. In a January interview by CNBC, Cook claimed the Apple Watch has democratised health care. “We are taking what has been with the institution and empowering the individual to manage their health. And we’re just at the front end of this,” Cook said. “But I do think, looking back, in the future, you will answer that question: Apple’s most important contribution to mankind has been in health.”

Telcos aren’t the only ones to blame for poor mobile experience

We’ve all experienced this frustration. Maybe its ordering an Uber, downloading a document or doing online banking, only for poor performance to be the buzzkill. But what if the telcos aren’t to blame?

When you are down the pub and jealously looking over at the streaming power your mate’s device can conjure, the first question is always the same; who is your contract provider? This usually leads to a moan about one telco being terrible, but they are cheaper, so it’s not the end of the world. Now, some telcos are certainly better at delivering performance than others, but it is not the only factor which should be considered.

This is not to say the telcos are completely blameless, farmers will back you up here, but a new report from Openreach suggests there is quite a notable variance between the performance of each of the device manufacturers when the smartphones are out in the wild.

“All smartphones are not created equal,” Ian Fogg, Opensignal’s VP of Analysis, wrote in the report. “Just as different smartphones offer a variety of camera qualities or screen sizes, they also differ in the network communication features which enable faster download speeds and smoother video streaming.”

Using 117.8 billion measurements from 23.3 million devices between April 1 and June 30 , Opensignal has produced a critique of the top three smartphone manufacturers across a broad range of different nations.

The table below is only a snippet of the research, but it paints an interesting picture:

Country Samsung Apple Huawei
Norway 58 Mbps 44 Mbps 46 Mbps
Switzerland 44 Mbps 45 Mbps 38 Mbps
UAE 32 Mbps 47 Mbps 27 Mbps
UK 25 Mbps 20 Mbps 25 Mbps
USA 28 Mbps 20 Mbps 17 Mbps
Spain 29 Mbps 26 Mbps 26 Mbps
South Africa 19 Mbps 18 Mbps 16 Mbps
India 9 Mbps 7 Mbps 9 Mbps

Across the 40 countries which were included in the research, Samsung’s devices were the fastest on average in 14 of the countries, Apple was fastest in 7. In the remaining 21, there was a tie for the fastest average device speed. Huawei was not a standalone winner anywhere, though it was joint fastest in 7.

Interestingly enough, in some of the markets where Apple is the leader in terms of market share, it is not the best performing provider. In the US, Samsung lead the way in terms of average download speeds by quite a margin, and it also fell in second place in Japan. Australia is another market where the iLeader came up short.

As mentioned before, the telcos are not innocent when it comes to poor performance. Congestion on individual mobile sites, network architecture, line of sight and numerous other factors slow download speeds, but we suspect few people will blame their devices. Another interesting factor is the amount which has been spent on the device in the first place.

Opensignal Device Grpahic

As you can see from the graphic above, the difference between high-, mid- and low-end devices is very notable. Many will accept there are differences between the different tiers of devices will offer different performance when they actually think about it, however, the cynic in all of us will simply believe the manufacturers are attempting to bleed as much cash out of customers for additional bells and whistles.

The difference between the tiers is down to exactly the same reason for the difference between the device manufacturers themselves. Devices will have different chipsets, or antenna, or will be able to connect to more frequency bands, there are 40 different bands in use for 4G after all. Different manufacturers will use different components, but then a manufacturer will use different quality components across a range of devices depending on how much it plans to charge for the specific device.

Moving forward, when latency becomes more of a factor, this is another area which could see more variance.

Latency is often discussed today, and while there are few usecases for the moment, this is an area which will continue to develop over the coming years. Release 16 from 3GPP should improve these metrics and drive the creation of new business cases. Soon enough there might be more justification for ludicrously expensive flagship devices outside the realms of bells and whistles.

Opensignal Latency Grpahic

An interesting question for Apple customers will be the performance of the devices in the future. Over the last few years, Apple has been moving more of its supply chain in-house, attempting to remove any reliance on external partners. The recent purchase of Intel’s smartphone chip business unit is an excellent example.

Apple is a company which excels at a lot of things, but the hardcore engineering of components is not one of them right now. The leader in the modem field is arguably Qualcomm, though considering the turbulent relationship between the two over the last two years, it would surprise few to see a permanent end to it. What impact this has on the performance of the iPhone remains to be seen.

Huawei is another which could be skating on thin ice. Similar to Apple, the Chinese giant has moved more activities to its own components business, HiSilicon, though it is still reliant on external partners in certain areas. A number of these suppliers are from the US, painting an unpleasant picture while it remains on the Entity List, banned from purchasing some critical components.

Corning is one supplier to Huawei, however finding another company to supply the cover glass will be a simple job. When it comes to the highly-specialised semiconductor manufacturers, one of the areas the US excels globally, it becomes a bit more difficult. The likes of Qualcomm, Skyworks Solutions, Micron, Qorvo and NeoPhotonics would have been selected for a reason. There will be alternatives, but you have to wonder whether this will impact performance.

The technology industry is going through an interesting time at the moment, and depending on who you work for, that is either very good or very bad. With the growth of the voice interface and emerging technologies such as AR set to play a bigger role in the future, devices could look and feel incredibly different in a few years.

Interestingly enough, consumers don’t seem to purchase devices based on the performance offered. This might be down to the assumption performance is entirely driven by the telcos, or perhaps consumers do not understand the complexities. Maybe this will change in the future, but it could certainly be a selling-factor for some manufacturers if the consumer actually understands the language, numbers and acronyms.

There will be new factors to consider when purchasing or even using a device, but when things do go wrong, blaming the telcos for poor performance might not be the most complete assumption.