x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Battle stations in smartphone war as Samsung, Sony and Apple brandish their big guns in Berlin

Smartphone manufacturers are gearing up for the competition to grow more intense than ever as each tries to outdo the other with their latest offerings ahead of Gitex Shopper in Dubai next month.

The new Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Sean Gallup / Getty Images
The new Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Competition for dominance in the global smartphone market is heating up as Samsung and Sony jostled for position at a major consumer electronics show in Berlin this week

Samsung and Sony have been vigorously flaunting their latest wares at IFA Berlin as the two manufacturers race head to head to compete for the title of most innovative company, ahead of Apple's product launch next week.

Sony unveiled its flagship phone, the Xperia Z1, while Samsung launched its latest phablet, the Galaxy Note 3, alongside its Galaxy Gear smartwatch. Both will be available in time for Gitex Shopper from October 5 in Dubai.

"The smartphone market is currently a dual-duopoly," said Ian Fogg, an analyst and director of mobile and telecoms at IHS. "Android and Apple are competing in the operating systems space and Samsung and Apple in hardware.

"You have the Chinese companies like Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo who are chasing the market, but the question is which one can break away from the pack."

Analysts say the companies best placed to forge ahead are those with expertise outside the traditional telephone market. Sony is leading the pack in this sense with its entertainment, digital imaging and content creation expertise.

"Lenovo is clearly signalling an intent to move beyond China in 2014," said Ben Wood, chief of research at CCS Insight. "It is a fearsome potential competitor, unlike Huawei and ZTE, as it has a brand that has some level of recognition with consumers. The mobile phone market is gravitating to giant companies that have the scale to fund the marketing required to get consumers to select their products. This exclusive club includes Sony, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft now that it has bought Nokia, which makes it tough for the small guys."

Sony is doubling its marketing budget globally this year to push the Xperia Z1 in all of its markets, and the chief executive Kazuo Hirai has made it clear the company is pushing for third place in global market sales.

HTC, BlackBerry and LG are among those that lack either expertise beyond the phone market or the capital required to push their products.

To further differentiate themselves, Samsung and Sony have also moved into wearable gadgets.

Sony's SmartWatch 2, priced at US$260, will be available towards the end of the year while Samsung's Galaxy Gear, a smartwatch that can make calls and take pictures will be priced at $299.

According to IHS, shipments of smartwatches will be modest this year, with just under 270,000 units, but the research firm expects this to increase sharply by 2014 to 2.6 million units with a staggering rise to 39 million units by 2018.

Given the GCC's traditional position as an early tech adopter, it is likely to make up a significant share of the market. The UAE's top smartphone according to the latest TRA reports is Samsung Galaxy S3.

"What's clear in the Gulf region is that Samsung is becoming a very strong smartphone player in the market and taking dramatic share from BlackBerry," Mr Fogg said. "The Galaxy Gear currently requires a Samsung phone to work which means the GCC is well placed to be a target market for the [watch]. It is clear that in the GCC region, customers are prepared to spend significant amounts on desirable, aspirational devices and this device is one for premium markets."

Some analysts remain sceptical on the success of these watches. They are heavy, bulky with a short battery life and high price tag.

Apple, which is expected to launch a new iPhone and a smartwatch next week, will also join the battle and add another dimension.

"There are always an abundance of rumours ahead of any Apple launch," said Mr Woods. "There is a certain expectation, however, that Apple will do something in wearable technology. Whether they will do that next week is unclear. The company still has significant work to do to take the iPhone franchise forward."

Samsung leads global smartphone sales with a 32 per cent share of the market, followed by Apple with 16 per cent and LG with 3 per cent, according to IDC.