Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) unveiled its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S9, late Sunday in Barcelona as it looks to maintain its lead over rival Apple Inc. (AAPL) in the global handset market amid slowing sales and a perceived peak in design and innovation.
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Samsung's S9 series will carry a price tag of between $750 and $930 in the U.S. market, depending on which model customers choose, and will carry a Qualcomm Inc.'s (QCOM) 'Snapdragon 845' chip that will power a 2.8 GHZ processor, faster on paper than Apple's $999 iPhone X. Its camera has two lenses that will take a dozen 12-megapixel images simultaneously and is imbeded with multiple options and functions designed to integrate the handset seamlessly into various social media platforms. The baseline S9 weighs just under 6 ounces, according to Sunday's presentation at the Mobile World Congress event, has a screen size of 5.8 inches and will official hit stores around the world on March 16.
"The way we use our smartphones has changed as communication and self-expression has evolved," said Samsung's heads of IT & Mobile, DJ Koh. "With the Galaxy S9 and S9+, we have reimagined the smartphone camera. Not only does the Galaxy S9 and S9+ enable consumers to shoot the best photos and videos anywhere, it's a smartphone that's designed to help them connect to others and express themselves in a way that's unique and personal to them."
Samsung shares ended the session in Seoul 0.34% higher at 2.369 million won each, trimming their decline from an early November record to around 12.5% amid concerns over pricing power in the DRAM and NASD chip markets and slowing demand for smartphones in a hyper-competitive global market. Rival SK Hynix Inc. was also pulled higher, rising 0.26% into the close of the session.
The Galaxy S9's social media focus, however, as well as the overall lack of a major design changes from the company's S8 version, suggests smartphone makers are struggling to provide the necessary spark to ignite flagging sales as customers baulk at higher handset prices in favor of cheaper older models from industry leaders such as Samsung and Apple and low-cost alternatives from competitors such as Huawei Technologies Co Ltd.
That dynamic was partly reflected in Samsung's 2017 earnings, published late last month, which showed a 3% decline in mobile division profits over the fourth quarter to 2.4 trillion korean won. Apple, for its part, reported a 1% fall in iPhone sales for its fiscal first quarter, which ended in December, and said it expects to sales in the three months ending in March to top out at $62 billion, a figure that fell shy of Wall Street's forecasts of 65.7 billion.
That said, industry analysts at Counterpoint suggest the new S9 series will sell around 43 million units this year -- well ahead of the 35 million Galaxy8's shifted last year -- and Apple still has more than 1.3 billion active devices in the market and it sold 77.3 million iPhones at an average price of $800 each last quarter.
As TheStreet's Eric Jhonsa wrote last week, smartphone markets are growing "increasingly comfortable pricing flagship models above $800, trusting relatively affluent consumers won't object to paying such sums for devices being used for several hours per day."
"On the other hand, smartphone unit sales are clearly under pressure due to high penetration rates and lengthening upgrade cycles," he argued. "4G network buildouts are largely complete in developed markets, and 5G rollouts are at least a year away from starting in earnest. And thanks in large part to the technical limitations of current hardware, the AR and VR headset markets remain in their infancy."
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