Samsung's Apple obsession must change as Sony grabs apathetic upgraders

Samsung will need to shift from relentlessly chasing Apple to simultaneously defending its smartphone userbase, analysts have warned, with the Korean company facing an unexpected challenge from Sony in what has so far been a European stronghold. Samsung devices now make up almost half of all smartphones sold in Europe, according to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech figures, the Telegraph reports, but Sony's Xperia Z mounted a surprise attack of sorts, with a significant percentage of Samsung Galaxy S II owners opting to upgrade to Sony's flagship in the UK, rather than the Galaxy S 4.

"Some 38-percent of Xperia's users are ex-Samsung owners, the majority of whom have upgraded from the Galaxy S II" Kantar's Paul Moore, global director, said of the upgrade trends. The Xperia Z – which we reviewed in European form back in February, and which is set to launch imminently in the US as a T-Mobile USA exclusive – is one of a rare number of waterproof phones, though also delivers a Full HD display and 13-megapixel camera.

Samsung can no longer rely on leading-edge technology and simply being an alternative to Apple, Kantar argues, and must instead consider those upgrading from the early halcyon days of the Galaxy series' successes.

"Samsung now finds itself in a position where, after two years of relentless growth, it must focus on keeping its existing base of customers loyal if it is to maintain its success" Kantar's Moore suggests. "As it stands, Samsung has the second highest loyalty rate in Britain (59%), but this falls well short of Apple (79%)."

One area where Samsung could improve is build quality and materials. The Galaxy S 4, although a powerhouse of hardware and software technology, was criticized by some for its plastic construction which, although sturdy and offering manufacturing flexibility, arguably lacks some of the premium hand-feel of rivals like the glass-inset Xperia Z or HTC's unibody One.

"With the competition dramatically upping their game in terms of build quality and content innovation, Samsung will have to work hard to convince its 8.8 million customers to stick with the brand," Moore concludes.

Still, Samsung may well be shifting to address that. Last month, the company's materials subsidiary announced it would form a joint-venture to explore new uses of carbon-fiber, including potential applications in mobile devices like phones and tablets. As flexible in how it can be molded and worked as plastic, but considerably stronger and more premium in how it feels, carbon-fiber also has advantages over metal in the ease with which radio signals can pass through.

In Europe, Samsung's successes have seen Android propelled to 70.4-percent of the smartphone market, the analyst firm calculates, ahead of iOS' 17.8-percent and Windows Phone's 6.8-percent.

However, in the US, Android has 52-percent of the smartphone market, and is even seen as stagnating in comparison to iOS and Windows Phone. iOS – boosted by sales of the iPhone 5 beginning on T-Mobile USA – has climbed to 41.9-percent of the market, while Windows Phone share grew 0.9-percent to 4.6-percent. In contrast, during the same period Android share in the US grew just 0.1-percent.