Samsung Electronics is beefing up its tablet range with a competitor to Apple’s iPad Mini that sports a pen for writing on the screen.
The South Korean company announced yesterday in Barcelona that the Galaxy Note 8.0 will have an 8-inch screen, putting it very close in size to the Apple’s tablet, which launched in November last year with a 7.9-inch screen. It is not the first time Samsung has made a tablet that is in the Mini’s size range: Its first iPad competitor had a 7-inch screen, and it still makes a tablet of that size, but without a pen.
Samsung will start selling the new tablet in the April-to-June period, at an as yet undetermined price. It made the announcement ahead of Mobile World Congress, the wireless industry’s annual trade show, which starts today in Barcelona, Spain.
The Note 8.0 fills a gap in Samsung’s line-up of pen-equipped devices between the Galaxy Note II smartphone, with its 5.5-inch screen, and the Galaxy Note 10.1, a full-size tablet.
Samsung has made the pen, or more properly the stylus, one of the tools it uses to chip away at Apple’s dominance in both tablets and high-end smartphones.
Apple does not make any devices that work with styluses, preferring to optimize its interfaces for fingers, mice and touchpads.
Apple, as usual, is steering clear of the congress that draws 1,500 exhibitors to this Mediterranean city in northeastern Spain, and Samsung is not expected to launch its next big offer, the Galaxy S4, until some time after the show.
That may leave the field clear for rivals to tout their ambitions for a slice of the smartphone market, which is set to grow to a record 1 billion handset shipments this year according to a forecast by global consultancy Deloitte.
At this year’s mobile fair, Chinese handset makers Huawei (華為), ZTE (中興) and Lenovo (聯想) will lead an onslaught on Samsung and Apple by offering big-screen, slick, slim smartphones at lower prices, analysts say.
The handset battle is part of a broader revolt against a handful of companies with a stranglehold on the booming industry’s handsets, operating systems and microchips, they say.
Demand for smartphones in developing countries could give Chinese firms a bigger opening, said Magnus Rehle, senior partner at telecommunications management consultancy group Greenwich Consulting.
“Hundreds of millions of Africans and Indians and Asians want to have a smartphone and so far the blocking point has been the price,” Rehle said, speaking from Ghana.
Now the Chinese firms were offering attractive smartphones at lower prices, he said.
“I think they will be quite successful in grabbing the new market outside of Europe and the US, and that is where the growth is,” Rehle said.
An even mightier duopoly holds sway over the operating system software that makes the smartphones work.
Google’s Android ran 69 percent of all handsets sold last year and Apple’s iOS 22 percent, a study by independent analytical house Canalys said.
Yet they face challengers, including Mozilla’s new open-sourced Firefox OS, backed by an array of mobile phone operators.
However, Microsoft’s new Windows Mobile operating system is struggling.
“The number of apps that is available is one thing that is blocking Windows from being successful,” Rehle said. “They have had problems and everybody is hoping this will change because the duopoly is maybe not good for the market.”
Firefox could face similar difficulties, he predicted.
A battle has broken out, too, over the processor chips that run the smartphones.
Santa Clara, California-based Intel is offering new high-performance chips to break its way into smartphones, of which almost all now use chip technology licensed by ARM, based in Cambridge, England.
The potential rewards for Intel could be rich: The market in processor chips for smartphone applications was worth nearly 7 billion euros (US$9 billion) last year, IHS communications technology analyst Francis Sideco said.
Despite robust growth in smartphones and tablet sales the mobile industry still faces a major challenge moving customers over to new ultrafast fourth generation, or 4G, networks, which can offer speeds similar to a fixed fiber-optic connection.
“There are 3G networks in many parts of the world like in Sweden that have been overcrowded and then you have parallel 4G networks that are almost empty,” Rehle said.
Network operators need to convince their customers to pay a little more for the faster speeds, he said, pointing to videos as the “killer application” to lure people to the system over the longer term.
If the operators succeed, they can make more money and invest in greater capacity, the analyst said.
“Otherwise, they will have problems,” Rehle added.