Samsung confirms UK launch-date for Galaxy S10 5G

Although it is easy to get lost in the 5G hype, this is an important announcement to take note of; Samsung’s 5G device will be available in the UK from June 7.

According to the latest statistics from Strategy Analytics, Apple is leading the smartphone market share rankings, while Samsung sits in second place. The duo has created a clear gap between everyone else, collecting just over 60% of all smartphone shipments over the final quarter of 2018.

Samsung and Apple are the two most trusted and popular brands in the UK. There might be other 5G smartphone buzz floating through the news, but Samsung has the weight of credibility in the eyes of the UK consumer; people might start paying much more attention to 5G now.

“The Galaxy S10 5G unlocks an entirely new mobile experience to prepare consumers for a world of possibilities: a larger 6.7-inch Dynamic amoled display; a new 3D Depth Camera with Live focus video; and the biggest battery available in the Galaxy S range, the Galaxy S10 5G is a visionary, ultra-premium device for those looking to stay ahead of the curve,” said Kate Beaumont, Director of Innovation, Technology and Services at Samsung.

Featuring enhanced display, upgraded camera features and an improved 4,500mAh3 battery, the traditional play on hardware is present to justify the price, though tribute has been paid towards the usecases of tomorrow. A 3D depth sensor has been introduced for the benefit of augmented reality.

Pricing for the handset has not been released just yet, though customers will be able to pre-order through Samsung experience stores from May 22. The devices will also be made available through EE and Vodafone, the later of which has confirmed the launch of its 5G network on July 3. EE is yet to announce a date to launch its own 5G network, though we suspect the Vodafone news will spur some activity before too long.

Although much of the 5G news will appear as somewhat of a blur for consumers in many markets, this Samsung announcement could cut through the noise. Apple and Samsung hold very trusted positions in the UK and also have the marketing budgets to make an impact. With Apple not launching its own 5G device until 2020, and other available devices having little credibility in the eyes of the consumer, Samsung could make the 5G euphoria real.

What is worth noting is that initial experiences are unlikely to meet the lofty expectations. The device might not be up to scratch, nothing is perfect first time around, while the coverage offered by EE and Vodafone will be incredibly limited. During the first phase of the launch, nine cities will be covered by both of the operators, though this will not be city-wide coverage. The likely scenario is going to be small pockets of busy traffic and transport hubs.

We’ve been waiting for quite a while and now it seems 5G is finally becoming real.

Apple drives global smartwatch market up 48% in Q1

The latest global smartwatch shipment numbers from Counterpoint Research reveal strong segment growth driven largely by Apple.

The fruity gadget giant accounts for over a third of the market, so when its shipments increase by 49% year-on-year it’s not surprising to see the whole market grow in line with that. Intriguingly Apple’s biggest smartphone competitors seem to be getting their act together in this smartwatch renaissance. Both Samsung and Huawei gained overall market share as you can see in the chart below.

counterpoint smartwatch q1 19

“Apple Watch shipments grew a solid 49% YoY despite the weak demand for its iPhones,” said Satyajit Sinhaof Counterpoint. “Apple continues to focus on the health-related features like ECG and fall detection in the Apple Watch Series 4. The ECG capability in the Apple Watch is the most desirable feature, according to our latest Consumer Lens survey. Apple has now received approval on its ECG features from healthcare authorities of Hong Kong and 19 other countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK.

“The heart rate sensor for health monitoring, GPS and pedometer sensors for fitness, and NFC embedded for payment are some of the key integrated technologies. Related use-cases and in addition to notifications with cellular capability are driving the smartwatch adoption. However, limited battery life remains a pain point for consumer’s decision-making process, irrespective of region and price band.”

“Samsung grew exponentially at 127% YoY as the Korean brand’s market share jumped to 11% in Q1 2019,” said Sujeong Lim of Counterpoint. “Its success was due to the latest Galaxy watch series which came with better battery life as well as a very traditional round clockface design. Further, it provides cellular LTE connectivity which gives it an edge over others targeting Android-based smartphone users. It is a great alternative to the Apple Watch for Android and Samsung’s huge installed base of users.

“Huawei’s market share jumped to 3% in Q1 2019 due to good traction for its latest Huawei Watch GT. The striking design, affordability, leveraging the growing ‘Huawei’ brand mindshare, and the smartphone user base is driving demand. Further, Huawei has shifted focus to sell more Huawei branded smartwatches whereas the smart bands are selling well under its Honor brand.”

So it looks like the big smartphone brands have finally worked out how to persuade their customers to buy smartwatches too, presumably helped by actually finding some useful functions for them. It’s still hard to see this as anything other than a fairly niche category for fitness nuts and hypochondriacs though and it will probably remain so until the voice and gesture UIs become so useful that it becomes viable to leave your smartphone at home.

Samsung’s profit crashes on weak semiconductor sales

Samsung Electronics reported a net profit decline of 57% in Q1, with total revenue going down by 14%. The semiconductor unit suffered the worst.

Samsung’s quarterly revenue went down from KRW60.56 trillion ($52 billion) a year ago to KRW52.39 ($45 billion) in Q1. The gross margin level came down from 47.3% to 37.5%. The operating profit dropped to KRW6.23 trillion ($5.3 billion) from KRW15.64 trillion ($13 billion), a decline of 60.2%. The net profit came down by 57% to KRW5.04 trillion ($4.4 billion).

 Samsung 2019_1Q_income

On business unit level, Device Solutions reported a 27% drop in revenue, the sharpest decline among all the business units. Inside the unit, Memory chips declined by 34%. Samsung attributed the weakness to “inventory adjustments at major customers”, indicating its customers including other smartphone makers, have been selling slower than expected.

IT & Mobile Communications, Samsung’s largest business unit by sales, the business was more stable. Revenue from the handset business dropped by 4% from a year ago, but grew sequentially by 17%. Samsung saw strong demand for its Galaxy S10 products, but the de-focus of mid-range and lower products limited the volume growth. The recent debacle of S10 fold, high profile as it may be, should not have had any material impact on Q1 as it was scheduled to launch in Q2. Samsung’s network business, though small in comparison to its competitors, reported a strong revenue growth of 62% to reach KRW1.28 trillion ($1.1 billion), benefiting from the “accelerating commercialization of 5G in Korea”.

Samsung 2019_1Q_BU

Samsung gave cautious lift to its outlook for Q2 but more optimistic with the second half of the year. It foresees the memory chip market stabilising in Q2 and stronger growth in the second half due to seasonality and product line refreshing. On the mobile side, Samsung sees growth in shipment in Q2 thanks to continued demand for the S10 products and positive market response to its new mid-range A series. It sees the 5G products and the fold form-factor making material contribution in the second half.

Verizon expands 5G supported by Samsung 5G phone

US operator Verizon will switch on 5G in 20 more cities and has opened pre-orders of Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G smartphone.

Verizon announced that it will switch on 5G Ultra Wideband service within this year in: Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Des Moines, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Little Rock, Memphis, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, Salt Lake City and Washington DC. That will take the total number of cities to offer 5G Ultra Wideband to at least 22 by the end of the year, with the networks in Chicago and Minneapolis already live since March. Verizon stands by its plan to deploy 5G network in about 30 cities across the country during the year, so a few more cities may still join the club later.

Meanwhile, all Verizon users can start pre-ordering the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G, though only those in the 22 cities and on Verizon’s Above and Beyond Unlimited plans will be able to enjoy 5G service. The S10 5G will be exclusive to Verizon for a limited period, and will arrive at Verizon stores on 16 May.

“The Galaxy S10 5G on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network will give our customers access to incredible speeds and the latest and greatest streaming, augmented-reality, gaming, and consumer and business applications that bring us into a future powered by 5G,” said Ronan Dunne, EVP of Verizon and president of Verizon’s consumer group. “With the rollout of 5G in more than 30 markets by the end of 2019 and the upcoming launch of Samsung’s first 5G Galaxy smartphone, we are pulling further ahead of the competition in 5G.”

When Verizon first launched 5G at the end of last year in four cities, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Indianapolis, and Houston, the service was limited to fixed wireless access, due to the lack of smartphones in the market. Consumers in Chicago and Minneapolis, the first two cities to go live on 5G Ultra Wideband in March were supported by the 5G Moto Mod attached to the LTE Moto Z3.

In addition to just fast internet, which Verizon promised to reach “typical” download speeds of 450 Mbps when the Chicago and Minneapolis service was switched on, Verizon’s group-level partnership with YouTube TV will also give the new 5G users plenty of content to fill the bandwidth with, similar to what SK Telecom does with its own 5G service.

Samsung delays launch of foldy phone after bad reviews

Korean electronics giant Samsung was due to launch the Galaxy Fold this week but after a few of them broke in the hands of reviewers it has changed its mind.

Exactly how long that delay will be hasn’t been revealed, but Samsung will presumably take as long as it needs to perform the stress testing and due diligence it should have performed before handing over review units. As we previously reported, at least three different kinds of major flaw were uncovered almost immediately by some reviewers so this could take a while.

Samsung’s announcement were a case-study in marketing speak and general turd polishing. “While many reviewers shared with us the vast potential they see, some also showed us how the device needs further improvements that could ensure the best possible user experience,” it said. “To fully evaluate this feedback and run further internal tests, we have decided to delay the release of the Galaxy Fold. We plan to announce the release date in the coming weeks.

“We will take measures to strengthen the display protection. We will also enhance the guidance on care and use of the display including the protective layer so that our customers get the most out of their Galaxy Fold. We value the trust our customers place in us and they are always our top priority. Samsung is committed to working closely with customers and partners to move the industry forward.”

In other words: people don’t want their two-grand devices to break within days so we’re going to make sure it doesn’t before we put it on sale. That’s totally fair enough but once the legal and marketing departments have got through with it we get the above. It looks like Samsung has also canned a couple of launch events, so it’s all rather embarrassing, but infinitely better than actually selling a dodgy device as Samsung knows well.

 

Reviewers report major faults with Samsung’s new foldy screen

A number of tech reviewers have reported the screens of their Galaxy Fold review units breaking soon after they started using them.

Reviewers for The Verge, CNBC and Bloomberg all had major problems with the groundbreaking foldable screen soon after they got their hands on it. The Bloomberg case seemed to result from the removal of a protective film over the screen, which it wasn’t made clear shouldn’t be done. The other two don’t seem to have made that mistake, however, and report different faults, which must be seriously worrying for Samsung.

Here’s the statement Samsung gave those sites: “A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.

“Separately, a few reviewers reported having removed the top layer of the display causing damage to the screen. The main display on the Galaxy Fold features a top protective layer, which is part of the display structure designed to protect the screen from unintended scratches. Removing the protective layer or adding adhesives to the main display may cause damage. We will ensure this information is clearly delivered to our customers.”

That all seems fair enough but, given the catastrophe that was the Galaxy Note 7 Samsung must be getting some traumatic flashbacks. The screen itself seems to be holding up so long as you don’t peel the film off, but some of the underlying circuitry and structure seems to be struggling. If these cases turn out to be isolated then they will all be forgotten but if any more such reports emerge then the launch of the Galaxy Fold is in a lot of trouble.

 

 

 

Huawei forecast to have narrow advantage in 5G RAN race

Analyst firm Strategy Analytics has taken a look at the runners and riders in the global 5G race and has Huawei ahead of its rivals by a nose.

In a report titled ‘Comparison and 2023 5G Global Market Potential for leading 5G RAN Vendors – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia’, SA took a look at the relative competitiveness of the big three kit vendors when it comes to 5G radio access network kit and made some market share forecasts accordingly.

The long and short of it, as you can see in the first table below, is that SA reckons by 2023 Huawei will account for around a quarter of the 5G RAN market, while Ericsson and Nokia will have closer to 23%. On top of that the ‘others’, largely Samsung and ZTE, will account for almost 30% between them, which is a decent effort. Samsung seems to be doing especially well in South Korea, funnily enough.

SA 5G RAN chart

“By 2023 5G looks to be a very competitive global market as this premium technology finally achieves economies of scale that will drive down the costs per Gigabyte of throughput to make 5G an affordable technology on a global basis,” said Phil Kendall of SA. “The neck and neck battle between Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia for share of 2023’s 5G radio access should lower costs for all segments of mobile, IoT and fixed 5G applications, even as smaller new vendors find specific niches below these three.”

The report also digs down into the strengths and weaknesses of the big three vendors. Specifically it looks at five broad categories: R&D, patents, product portfolio, product performance and deployment support. The bad news for the Nordic vendors is that Huawei comes top in all five categories, only having to share that spot with the other in the case of product portfolio. It looks like Ericsson needs to start putting its hand in its pocket and Nokia wants to take on a few more engineers.

SA 5G RAN comparison

“R&D investment backed by market scale is the most crucial factor for the long term competitiveness of 5G infrastructure vendors,” said SA’s Guang Yang. “Huawei has maintained steady growth in its 5G R&D investment, which bodes well for long term advances in energy efficient, cost effective 5G technology.”

With all that in mind it’s kind of surprising SA doesn’t anticipate a bigger lead for Huawei in four years’ time. The reason, presumably, is that Huawei will be excluded from a bunch of markets thanks to all the US aggro it faces. Opinion seems to be divided about how much slack will be picked up by Chinese sales, with Huawei revealing it has yet to do any 5G deals in mainland China, but the analyst in the video below still seeing that country as a big competitive advantage for them.

 

Samsung warns profit could half on weak chip and display demand

The world leader in smartphones and chips has released a profit warning for its Q1 results, due to be announced next month. Analysts estimate its operating profit could halve from a year ago.

The company announced that it would miss market expectations, due to hard hits for sales in its key display and semiconductor business units. “The company expects the scope of price declines in main memory chip products to be larger than expected,” said Samsung.

Semiconductor and display have been the major revenue and profit generators for Samsung Electronics over the last few years. In 2018, these two business lines, combined to form Samsung “Device Solutions” (DS) business unit, delivering 49% of total revenues and 79% of its operating profit. However, it has already come under pressure. In Q4 last year, the operating profit of DS dropped by 29% from a year ago.

This communication should not come entirely as a surprise. In the company’s AGM on 20 March, Samsung already outlined its 2019 outlook for both the overall business and for individual business units. On the macro business environment, Samsung predicted “In 2019, we expect business conditions to remain difficult as global trade conflicts persist and changes in monetary policies of developed nations may lead to financial uncertainties in emerging economies.”

On the semiconductor front, especially for NAND business, Samsung warned “uncertainty persists over supply-demand dynamics caused by capacity expansions in the industry and a potential slowdown in demand following inventory stocking by customers.” On the display business Samsung expected “conditions to worsen in 2019 as competition rises amid a relatively stagnant market.”

Samsung did not give more specific indicators on the level of miss, but investment analysts predicted the company to report a $6.4 billion operating profit for Q1, down from $13.8 billion in Q1 last year, with revenues expected to come down to $47.4 billion from $53.5 billion, according to Refinitiv SmartEstimate.

“Inventories piling up on its memory chip side and the weak performance of its display panels business due to bad sales of Apple’s iPhones are hurting profitability for Samsung,” said Lee Won-sik, an analyst at Shinyoung Securities, quoted by Reuters.

The soft smartphone market including that experienced by Apple, Samsung’s main rival as well as customer, has been attributed the main reason behind the difficulty. But Samsung believed it could turn things around, especially the demand for memory products, in the second half of the year, as it told the shareholders last week.

Samsung Electronics share price went down by 0.55% at the time of writing.

Samsung launches a 5G phone and a tablet you can fold in half

With the launch of its first 5G smartphone as well as its first foldable screen Samsung has grabbed the pre-MWC headlines but what is the point of either device?

As is so often the way with new convergent product categories, this first attempt to make something that is both a phone and a tablet seems to have resulted in something that isn’t much good at being either. Essentially it’s a small tablet that can fold in half to make a very chunky phone, with a hefty price tag to match.

But we mustn’t be too negative. Samsung has been teasing the bendy screen for years and actually putting one into a commercial device is an impressive achievement. Its first effort was always going to be more of a public prototype than anything a normal person would consider buying, but it is as a commercial offering that it should be judged.

The Galaxy Fold uses a new display technology Samsung is calling ‘Infinity Flex’, which is an AMOLED screen that can be folded in half. Hence you have a 7.3-inch tablet that, when folded, becomes a 4.6-inch phone. Thus you have all the portability of a phone combined with the viewing experience of a tablet, or so Samsung would have us believe.

“Today, Samsung is writing the next chapter in mobile innovation history by changing what’s possible in a smartphone,” said DJ Koh, Samsung’s head of mobile. “Galaxy Fold introduces a completely new category that unlocks new capabilities never seen before with our Infinity Flex Display. We created Galaxy Fold for those that want to experience what a premium foldable device can do, beyond the limitations of a traditional smartphone.”

We note with dismay that Samsung has adopted Apple’s irritating habit of dropping the definite article when referring to its products, as if they’re a person rather than a thing. But that’s not enough to distract us from the fact that 7.3-inches is very small for a tablet market in which ten inches has become the norm and that, when folded, the phone is inevitably much fatter than we’ve become accustomed to with regular smartphones. Oh yes, and it costs two grand (dollars).

We spoke to Neil Mawston of Strategy Analytics to get his take on it. “Samsung Fold is the world’s most important smartphone launch since Apple iPhone in 2007,” he said. “Samsung’s Fold is a very good first-generation device. The Fold is relatively expensive, bulky and heavy, but the foldable industry has to start somewhere and this is a pretty good beginning.

“We forecast global foldable smartphone revenues to rise from zero in 2018 to US$2 billion in 2019. Foldable designs will account for 1% of all smartphones shipped worldwide in 2019. The first buds of the foldable smartphone era are starting to sprout.

“Foldable smartphones are a luxury gadget today, a premium product in a year or two, and a midrange device in five or so years. Think of foldable smartphones at the moment as a Rolex watch or Ferrari supercar, a show-off product for status-seekers with deep pockets.”

One last question mark comes courtesy of our eagle-eyed video producer and resident gadget geek Pierre. He noticed in the unveiling video that the opened-up screen doesn’t seem to be perfectly flat. As you can see in the screenshot below, only one half of the screen is reflecting the spotlight, which strongly implies it doesn’t open up to the full 180 degrees. Hmmm.

Galaxy Fold screenshot

Somewhat overshadowed by all this foldy fun was the launch of Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone family, the Galaxy S10, S10+ and S10e. So we now have the ‘e’ variant as the lowest-priced version ($750) and then the option of two increases in size, spec and price ($900 and $1,000). The infographic at the bottom shows how the biggest one has been upgraded from last year.

The most interesting part of that launch, however, was the promise of a 5G version hitting the shelves of US operator Verizon in Q2 of this year. The Galaxy S10 5G will be even bigger than the S10+, with its 6.7-inch screen barely smaller than the foldy one, which once more begs the question of what the point of the latter is.

Other than that, details are a bit thin on the ground, including price, although we can safely assume it will cost a fair bit more than the S10+. We do know the 5G modem is the Snapdragon X50, however, with Qualcomm wasting little time in crowing about that. It also flagged up the first commercial use of its 3D Sonic Sensor, which allows fingerprints to be scanned through the screen.

“Samsung S10 is relatively well priced for its premium features, and Samsung seems to have learnt from the S9 overpricing debacle last year,” said Mawston. “Samsung’s S10 range carries some rare or near-unique features, such as 5G and Wireless Power Share for phone-to-phone recharging. Of course, Samsung’s rivals are not standing still. For example, Huawei is pumping out plenty of premium smartphones with standout features, such as the Mate 20 X with a huge 7.2-inch screen.”

Samsung announced a bunch of European 5G operator partnerships that will support the launch of the S10 5G across Europe in the middle of this year. The following operators served up canned quotes from their CEOs saying how excited they are, which we will spare you: DT, EE, Orange, Sunrise, Swisscom, TIM, Telefonica and Vodafone.

In summary this was an impressive array of launches from Samsung, presumably timed to steal the thunder away from other launches that typically take place on the Sunday before MWC starts. The foldy phone as it is now just seems to be an expensive gimmick, but we may eventually view it as the start of an era. The same goes for the S10 5G, which will initially have very little 5G network to work with, but is nonetheless a milestone in the evolution of the smartphone industry.


Galaxy S10+ infographic