Samsung Reinforces its Position as World’s Largest Smartphone Maker

Today, the latest Android challenge to Apple's iPhone was announced: Samsung's Galaxy S III. Android is the only other smartphone OS competitive with Apple's iOS and over 2011, Samsung established itself as the world's leading vendor of Android-based devices. The predecessor of the Galaxy S III, the II model, was widely considered to be the best Android device of 2011.

Previous Samsung competitors such as Nokia and RIM are now well and truly in the rear view mirror. That's despite Microsoft squeezing its bulky frame behind the wheel of Nokia. These days, it's Samsung and Apple who are neck and neck in the race for smartphone dominance - and it's daylight behind them. In fact, according to research firm IDC, Samsung overtook Apple at the end of 2011 as the world’s largest smartphone maker.

The new phone from Samsung is impressive, but it's not the technological bombshell that all of the main releases of iPhone have been. The Samsung Galaxy S III is good... good enough. It's what Microsoft used to be in the PC market, versus the same competitor: Apple. Which worked out pretty well for Microsoft.

Natural What?

Hardware reviews from the likes of Engadget and The Verge emphasize the new Siri-like voice navigation functionality in the S III, called S Voice. This is part of what Samsung is labeling "Natural Interaction" in the S III.

It's no longer just about the touchscreen. Another new interaction feature is "Smart stay", which "recognizes how you are using your phone – reading an e-book or browsing the web for instance – by having the front camera identify your eyes." If you are reading, then the S III will automatically make the display bright. Also new is motion recognition, for example automatically dialing someone if you lift your phone to your ear in the middle of txting them.

There are some neat home networking features in the S III, such as "AllShare Cast", which transfers content from your phone to the TV (similar to Apple's AirPlay). A feature called "S Beam" enables transfer of multimedia content between two S III devices simply by tapping them together.

All of these new software features are impressive, but most are copies or marginal enhancements of what's on the iPhone. The "Natural Interaction" features are, in truth, fairly gimmicky. But that doesn't matter, it is good enough.

Dropbox and Flipboard

One interesting development is that Samsung is buddying up to leading apps. The Galaxy S III will come pre-loaded with the online storage service Dropbox, including 50GB of free Dropbox space for 2 years with a registered handset. Also, the popular online magazine app Flipboard will finally come to Android - starting with the Galaxy S III, where it will be an exclusive feature for an unspecified period of time.

This is win/win for all concerned, as those apps don't want to be reliant on Apple's sometimes draconian App Store rules. As for Samsung, it gets some cool new apps, with varying forms of "exclusivity" on the Android platform.

Samsung vs. Apple

The key to the the Galaxy S III is that it's at least the equal of the iPhone. At a lower price point. It also has some sex appeal, which is important when competing against Apple (as Microsoft has found to its detriment). The new interaction features in the S III may be a bit gimmicky, but they sound cool. And while Google's Android OS was a Godsend to Samsung, don't forget that Samsung itself is a very strong electronics brand. Importantly, it isn't laden with the historic baggage that Microsoft/Nokia and RIM are carrying.

There is only one Apple and it won't lose its lustre with the public any time soon. But Samsung has managed to wrest the middle ground in the mobile phone market away from the likes of Nokia, Microsoft and Google-owned Motorola. It will be more than happy to keep releasing 'good enough' imitations of the iPhone for the foreseeable future.

See also: A Brief History of the (Samsung) Galaxy