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Why Apple’s iPhone Xs will be a smash hit while Samsung’s ‘S’ upgrades failed miserably

Published Sep 7th, 2018 7:45AM EDT
iPhone Xs Max Release Date

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We’re now less than one week away from seeing Apple finally take the wraps off of its hotly anticipated new smartphone lineup. The iPhone Xs, iPhone Xs Max, and a third new iPhone model with a name that has yet to be confirmed will all debut on stage during Apple’s September 12th event. Though we don’t yet know the name of the third new iPhone model, we do know practically everything there is to know about it, just like the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max. We also know something else about these three new 2018 iPhone models, and we know it beyond any shadow of a doubt: They’re going to be a smash hit for Apple, with global sales that reach into the double-digit millions during their first weekend of availability alone.

There’s something interesting about flagship phones from top smartphone brands in 2018. For both Apple and Samsung, 2018 is an “S” year, which refers to Apple’s strategy of releasing a phone that is nearly identical to its predecessor, but with a few new features and major upgrades related to performance. Apple’s new 2018 iPhone lineup will be headlines by the iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max, which feature the exact same design as last year’s iPhone X but with a big performance boost. Meanwhile, Samsung did the exact same thing with the Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9+ earlier this year and it fell flat on its face. Why does this strategy work so well for Apple and so poorly for Samsung?

Earlier this year, Samsung released two new flagship smartphones that instantly became the best Android phones in the world. We even said so in our Galaxy S9 review. The Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 were tremendously powerful, the shared a sleek design, and they offered upgraded camera performance that was among the best available. They also looked almost exactly like the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ that came before them. They were “S” upgrades, and Android fans simply weren’t interested.

Samsung will always enjoy a certain level of success thanks to the billions it spends on marketing and advertising. Samsung phones are also propped up by big sales promotions right out of the gate. Even with every box checked and every trick in the book being utilized, the Galaxy S9 and S9 have been a big disappointment. They dragged down Samsung’s earnings performance, and they’re projected to be the company’s worst-selling Galaxy S phones since 2012.

Fast-forward to next week, and Apple will unveil new “S” phones of its own. The iPhone Xs will succeed the current-generation iPhone X, and a new iPhone Xs Max, the name of which we exclusively confirmed earlier this week, will be a phablet-sized version of the exact same phone. Both models will sport the same exact design along with big performance upgrades and a new feature or two, such as a sleek new gold color option. Then a third new iPhone model with a 6.1-inch LCD screen will be made available starting at a lower price point, likely either $699 or $799.

So here we have a bunch of “S” upgrades from Apple that reuse last year’s design but beef up performance and toss a few superficial new features into the mix… and sales are going to be off the charts. In fact, a number of Wall Street analysts have said that they expect iPhone sales during the holiday quarter to climb as high as they were back in 2014, when Apple released the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and sales skyrocketed to record highs due to pent-up demand for iPhones with larger displays. (iPhone sales in the holiday quarter the following year edged out the holiday quarter in 2014, but that quarter had an extra week so the sales rate was actually lower.)

Why is Apple expected to enjoy record sales next quarter when the same strategy just blew up in Samsung’s face. This is particularly ironic because Samsung got where it is today in the smartphone market by blatantly copying everything Apple does, and yet copying Apple’s strategy this time around failed miserably. I’ve touched upon the reason before here on the site, but it’s really quite simple: Apple has no competition.

Consumers shopping for a new Android smartphone have many, many choices. So when Samsung released a pair of Galaxy S phones earlier this year that were minor “S” updates — aka boring — they just moved on and looked elsewhere for their next smartphone. Why wouldn’t they? There are dozens of great Android phone models available around the world at the time. In fact, Huawei reaped much of the benefit since its 2018 smartphones have been outstanding, and it’s now the number 2 smartphone vendor in the world.

On the other side of the fence, you have consumers who were shopping for a new iOS phone. Their only choices, of course, are iPhones. That’s why Apple’s “S” strategy has been so successful for so long. By owning the hardware as well as the software, Apple is the only company that sells iOS phones. It has no competition. But since Samsung uses open source Android software to power its phones, it has tremendous competition from companies like Huawei, Google, LG, OnePlus, Motorola, and all the other companies out there that sell Android phones.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.