Despite my calendar telling me we’re supposed to be entering the Spring season, outside my office window Nature has deposited a thick, dense layer of snow atop all of Greater Boston. As my BlackBerry will tell you, I’ve already had quite enough of the frozen menace this year, and the constant exposure to its numbing cold has me thinking morbid thoughts this Friday afternoon. Specifically, I’m thinking about death, and how it relates to the Samsung Galaxy S III.
Every time a new smartphone comes up for announcement, the media’s focus -and the consumers’- swings instantly to the hip, new, cool device. (That’s by design, and if that didn’t happen I’d be out of a job, so I’m pretty pleased that that’s the way of things.) But importantly, something else happens simultaneously: focus shifts away from the device that used to be the fresh, hot thing. See you later, yesterday’s hotness. Don’t let the door hit you in the battery cover on your way to the refurb plant.
As a result of our fixation on novelty, the story of the has-been smartphone doesn’t often get told. But wireless contracts still range from two- to three-year term lengths. Only the tiniest fraction of users -those I termed “techno-neophiliacs” in yesterday’s piece on the fourth platform– pay the financial penalty of upgrading early. The rest of the smartphone consumer world is, if not perfectly happy, then at least begrudgingly content to stay with their now-outdated phone for the latter year of their contract.
This happens all the time in other fields, too. While shoppers may not upgrade their home appliances nearly as often as their consumer electronics, when the time does come to select a new refrigerator (Twitter-enabled or no), you can bet their eye will first be directed -either unwittingly or by a motivated salesperson- to the newest model. That doesn’t mean the older models don’t still get sold, though; in fact, companies devote a huge amount of resources to pushing the formerly-new products out the door at discounted prices.
Apple is perhaps most notable for this in the smartphone world, mainly due to its consistency. Every year, a new iPhone launches, and last year’s model gets discounted to become the “budget” iPhone. That’s the way it’s been since at least 2009, and rumors about dedicated budget iPhone models notwithstanding, it looks likely to stay that way going forward.
Despite its near-fanatical zeal to be perceived as the planet’s anti-Apple, Samsung has been hewing more and more closely to this model with each iteration of its blockbuster Galaxy S series. Each passing year, the new Galaxy S lands, and the existing one gets a big discount and distribution to less-deluxe channels. Sure, other manufacturers do this – almost all of them, in fact. But due to its stranglehold on the Android smartphone world, Samsung can do it better. It’s able not just to offer its older models at discounted prices, but to keep them updated with the newest Android software builds at something resembling an acceptable pace. That’s pretty cool.
All this is to say that, even considering the multi-megaton bombshell the Galaxy S IV is virtually guaranteed to be when it launches next week, the Galaxy S III’s story is far from over. This is the smartphone that cemented Samsung’s victory over rival HTC in 2012. It’s the smartphone that wrapped so many new Android features into its Nature UX skin that we needed to install a special subcategory in one of our reviews just to collect them all. It’s the smartphone that finally made “Galaxy” synonymous with “Droid,” much to Joe Levi’s chagrin. It might not be perfect, but the Galaxy S III is a legend that will, like Bruce Lee, live on.
And rightfully so. Over the course of the next year, we’re going to see smartphone advancements of almost every kind, but nothing that’s going to render the SIII instantly archaic. Even after next Thursday’s announcement, SIII owners are still going to be able to take really good photos, view them on a really nice display, share them using a really responsive interface, and store as many of them as the expandable memory will allow, for as long as the pretty impressive battery will last. And they’ll be able to do all this -along with the talking, texting and browsing the device also does very well- in even more regions, on even more networks than before.
All this is good news, at least for Samsung and Google. It means a landmark device like the Galaxy S III doesn’t have to fade away into the sunset; it can stick around, using the reinvigorated luster of the Galaxy brand to spread itself far and wide to better the mind- and market share of both Android and Samsung. More importantly, its gradually diminishing price will allow more consumers to participate in a solid Android smartphone experience.
If you’re a Windows Phone or iOS devotee, maybe this gradual cementing of GoogSung’s smartphone dominance is a little bit of sour milk in your cereal. I understand. So much so that I’m not even going to hit you with the whole “but competition breeds excellence” rigamarole. I’m just going to say that at some point (unless you’re an utterly insufferable fanboy) everyone takes pleasure in the tale of a landmark product cheating death, even if that escape from destiny isn’t a narrow one. Even if it’s just part of the natural progression of a product’s life cycle. Even if, as I mentioned in this week’s Pocketnow Weekly podcast, that product was never quite our favorite. The bottom line is this: the Galaxy S III isn’t going away next week, and the soft and mushy parts of we modern-day phone freaks can take some comfort in knowing that this particular legend will stick around for a while longer.
Have a nice weekend, folks, and try not to let the snow (or rain, or wind, or whatever) get you down.