Samsung (not) singing the blues

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iol scitehc july 24 galaxy s3

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The Samsung Galaxy S3

Durban - It’s quiz time. What do the following have in common: a smartphone you can control with your eyes or a hovering finger, no touching required; a fridge with an internet-connected tablet built into its door; energy-saving air-conditioners; a boom box the size of a chest freezer; and a towering 85-inch TV set with four times the resolution of existing full HD displays?

Take a bow if your answer was that they’re all made by Samsung and were launched at various events around the world, including South Africa, over the past fortnight.

If there’s anything that illustrates the vast difference between the Korean behemoth and what the public perceive as its chief rival, Apple, it’s the enormous diversity of products it makes and markets around the world.

While Apple manufactures a handful of devices – media players, smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers – Samsung’s interests are vastly more diverse, ranging from electronics and consumer goods like the ones mentioned above to construction projects like the 162-storey Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building, and even ship-building.

I’d not realised just how wide-ranging this multi-national’s operations were until I attended its Africa Forum event in Cape Town recently and was blown away by the variety of goods and services on display.

Gorgeous, eye-catching products like the aforementioned S9 Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV will hog the headlines when they go on sale in the coming months – the price alone, expected to be well over R200 000, will make it newsworthy. But I’m more excited about the less glamorous “Built for Africa” projects Samsung is bringing to market.

These include a top-loading washing machine with a nifty “wobble” action in addition to the traditional spin, a “jet engine” powered airconditioner with energy savings of up to 76 percent on current models, and a range of fridges, sans tablets alas but with digital inverter technology that keeps produce cooler using a lot less of Eskom’s increasingly expensive electricity.

Why Samsung felt the need to demo these products with scantily clad dancers is beyond me, and it’s issued an apology for this after a barrage of critical tweets and articles. But this shouldn’t detract from the fact that the company is clearly making a serious push into Africa with products specifically designed for local conditions – both climatic and economic.

Accompanying these products is an ever-growing range of apps and services designed to lock customers into Samsung’s ecosystem.

One of them is The Kleek, a pan-African mobile music streaming service being rolled out in partnership with Universal Music Group. Aimed at the African market, it will be free to use initially and – here’s the lock-in part – exclusively on Samsung handsets.

Then there’s the partnership with wireless hotspot company AlwaysOn, whereby owners of Samsung handsets will get 1GB of data a month free for a year at any of the provider’s 1 200 hotspots around the country. The offer applies to all Samsung devices sold within the last three years.

With the average smartphone easily able to chew through 1GB of data in 30 days when left on its default settings, this freebie should prove a powerful inducement to buy a Samsung handset or tablet and to stick with the brand when renewal time comes round.

Whether that new phone will be the Samsung Galaxy S4 is apparently a matter for debate. Many everyday users of current Android phones have reacted with enthusiasm to the release of Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, but analysts and tech commentators have criticised it as a gimmicky, evolutionary rather than revolutionary, upgrade of the wildly popular Galaxy S3, which sold more than 200 000 units in South Africa alone.

Am I the only one getting a sense of déjà vu here? Remember the lukewarm reaction of “pundits” to the iPhone 5 last year? It went on to become the best selling iPhone yet.

Maybe Apple and Samsung have something in common after all. They’ve both become victims of their own success.

What do you think of the S4, or any of the other products mentioned today? Tweet me @alanqcooper. - Sunday Tribune

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