NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Investors were stunned to wake up to the news Thursday that Samsung (SSNLF) had replaced Chang Dong-hoon as its its head of mobile design. This would be like Apple (AAPL - Get Report) taking the design power away from Jony Ive. It has come out of nowhere.
Samsung's ADR was selling for a steady $1,350 per share at 10 a.m. on Friday, while Apple shares were at $582 (about 1% down from the open).
Part of the surprise stems from the fact that it has only been a few weeks since the Korean tech giant launched the new version of its flagship phone, the Galaxy S5. And by all accounts, the phone, which received strong praise for its features, was said to be selling like hotcakes.
Those who reviewed the phone applauded the fast processor, bright screen and superb camera. And it's waterproof! According to Forbes, which cited third-party data, the Galaxy S5 was selling much faster in its first week-and-a-half than the S4.
Consider this. In the first 11 days of launch, the S5, which comes preloaded with smart remote app Peel, already had 1 million activations. By contrast, it took the Galaxy S4 five additional days to reach the 1 million activation mark.
This gave Samsung investors hope that the company would put to rest the fear that the high-end device market is saturated, which seemed likely in its recent earnings results. So it remains to be seen whether Dong-hoon's dismissal is due to any sudden slowdown in sales. While suggesting that Dong-hoon will retain a broader role with the company, Samsung called the move a "routine shuffle." But no one gets canned for doing a great job.
Is this Samsung acknowledging defeat -- that it has fallen short of the rumored features in Apple's iPhone 6?
Well, it's also possible that Samsung is beginning to shift its focus on the heels of Apple's resurgence. In any event, it is clear is that Samsung no longer believe that its strategy of producing "very good -- but not amazing" phones can still work.
Samsung has been content to go after the low-end device market. This is an area which Apple, despite pleas from investors and analysts, has ignored. To dominate that market, Samsung has gotten by with using plastic covering and other cheaper materials. That placed the phones at a much lower price.
But this also limited Samsung's margins -- and its ability to make money.