Open your eyes Singapore, the world is more than just Apples and Samsungs.
If you’re a Singaporean reading this article, chances are you own an iPhone or a Samsung device. These are the two manufacturers which are most popular and commonly seen in Singapore. But the world is not just Apples and Samsungs.
I once had a conversation with someone about her phone, and she said rather apologetically that she had trouble navigating the interface on her new S4, being a veteran iPhone user. She said, and I quote, “I’m not really used to this as I switched from iOS to Samsung”. iOS to Samsung. I was taken aback. She had compared iOS to Samsung. “I switched from iOS to Android”? Sure. “Apple to Samsung”? Ok. But iOS to Samsung? That’s just wrong.
Other than the fact that it was a fallacious faulty comparison, what she didn’t realize was that she just related iOS, an operating system, to Samsung, a manufacturer, which implied that she thinks of Samsung as an operating system, a whole new ecosystem on its own. As though Android didn’t exist and Samsung was the only one running an operating system that wasn’t Apple’s, that Samsung was the only viable alternative.
It was as though Apple and Samsung were the only two manufacturers that exist.
The blind following of the two giants
When Singaporean magazine Digital Life had a vote for the best gadgets of 2013, the TFT team was shocked at the polling results. Every single winner, in the smartphone and tablet categories, was either an Apple or Samsung product.
There were some that we agreed with, such as the best tablet under 9 inches, where the iPad mini with retina display rightfully thrashed the competition, but some other winners obviously didn’t deserve their place.
The most obvious was the smartphone with the best camera category. The winning entry was the iPhone 5s. Don’t get me wrong, the 5s has a good camera, but the cameras of the Z1, Note 3, G2, and of course, the Lumia 1020, were better. In fact, when it came to camera smartphones, the Lumia 1020 is the undisputed champion. So how could the 5s win? It was obvious that this was simply a vote of blind popularity.
But that’s not uncommon in Singapore. The hive mentality here is pretty strong. Just follow what everyone else does. Go with the flow. iPhones are cool. Samsungs are cool too. Other phones are unheard of. It really makes us, the TFT team of smartphone journalists, sad for all those other great manufacturers out there.
There’s Sony, with the Xperia Z1. Gorgeous Omnibalance design, waterproof, with an amazing camera. There’s Nokia, leader of Windows Phones, producing phones of great build quality and with amazing cameras too.
Also there’s HTC, who, despite their poor sales record, produce excellent metal unibody phones, and HTC’s sense 5 UI is arguably the most modern-looking one out there.
And of course there’s LG, while not very outstanding on the software side, they led the curve by making the G Flex, the first curved smartphone to hit shores outside South Korea. They also took a bold move to differentiate themselves from their Korean neighbours with the rear buttons on the G2.
But of course, Samsung has its merits. The first manufacturer to produce a phablet, the Note 3, starting a whole new trend on its own, and Apple is the pioneer of the modern smartphone and tablet.
Maybe that’s why they’re so popular. Because they’re the ones who started it all. But that doesn’t mean that they are the undisputed best. Singaporeans, unfortunately, do not seem to realize this.
Samsung’s success and popularity could be credited to their extensive marketing during the early days, where they would spend lots of dollars advertising their new products, such as the flagship Galaxy S, which achieved international acclaim. Another reason for their success is their smart manipulation of technical specifications. While Apple would not release notes on their iPhone’s clock speed or amount of RAM, Samsung would smugly churn out tons of specs and figures that were seemingly impressive, influencing the gullible masses to buy their stuff.
Now this might seem a little condescending towards Samsung, but the truth is, that’s what they did. Apple is popular because they were the pioneers. Samsung was popular due to some clever marketing, and once you’re in the lead, it’s hard for the rest to keep up. HTC, Sony, Nokia, LG, are unrecognised for their efforts.
On the MRT, practically everyone around you will be holding on to an iPhone or a Samsung phone. In other parts of the world, the war goes on between Apple and Google; iOS and Android. But it seems that in Singapore, it’s just Apple VS Samsung.
Some of our journalists here at TFT use Samsungs. And some use iPhones. But those who do recognize the cons of these two devices. Timothy uses a Samsung Galaxy S4 but he knows how terrible and laggy the TouchWiz UI is. Shiv uses an iPhone but he sees iOS as a locked-down operating system and is considering getting himself a Nexus 5.
As of Q3 2013, iOS dominates 49% of the market share, with Android receiving 50% and Windows Phone 1%. Out of the 50% Android market share, 34% of it has been captured by Samsung. This leaves a paltry 16% out of the the 4.6 million of Singaporean smartphone owners who have not been convinced by Samsung.
The scene for the iPhone is not much different in Singapore either. While this is one of the few Apple products that is not overpriced (the others being the base Retina MacBook Pro and Mac Pro workstation), it still is considered as the de-facto ‘cool’ phone of the masses. While there’s no issue in it being just cool, the problem lies in the accompanying stigma when not purchasing an iPhone.
Even though the iPhone 5S brought on incremental changes over the 5, users here bought the device in droves, and even queued overnight for stock availability. The same can be said for the iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina display. Most users fail to realise the existence of tablets other than the iPad and the occasional Galaxy Note 2014/Tab 3. The fact that the Nexus 7 (2013) had been introduced with the same pixel density as the Retina iPad Mini went completely unnoticed by most – a quick ask around with my friends again revealed that they thought that simply because the Nexus 7 (2013) has lower pixels, does not make it have an inferior display.
This is really the kind of blind following that both tech giants have collected, and here’s why it is a major issue.
So what if Apple and Samsung are popular?
It is because of their popularity, that Google refuses to bring the Nexus 5 here. Even out of these 740, 000 people, you would be hard pressed to find more than a handful who would switch over to the Nexus 5 without aggressive marketing which only Apple and Samsung do. Motorola, being under the leadership of Google has also similarly refused to bring the Moto X and Moto G here on their own – the latter is being brought in by a local retailer on its own.
Walk into any telco shop here, and all you will see in the accessories section are iPhone and Samsung Galaxy cases. It has become impossible to find a reputed case for my Xperia Z1 at any non-Sony shop. The tight squeeze thus has already begun to hurt us – the consumer.
Samsung has already begun locking down their devices, just like how Apple keeps a tight leash on their software. The recently released European 4.4 KitKat update for the Note 3 has resulted in all third-party smart cases being disabled due to a lack of an official Samsung micro-chip. A similar fiasco occurred when the Note 3 released, as it was found out that you could only use in internationally after you had used a SIM card from the country of purchase.
Samsung’s desire to fork Android to create Tizen OS isn’t helping their case either. They don’t care if Android fans follow them on their new path – they only care that the Galaxy something followers do. On the popular ‘Front Page of the Internet’, Reddit, one user commented that the majority of Samsung’s customers would be none the wiser if they quietly switched to Tizen OS, as long as Android market support existed. And the worst part is, he’s completely correct. Tizen looks quite similar to TouchWiz.
Manufacturers are quickly getting discouraged – Singapore is seeing far less diversity than Europe and the USA. Where they get the Droid Maxx and Nexus 5 (even India has this), we here have to resort bringing it in on our own and risking a hefty bill if it turns out to be DOA. This lack of diversity is extremely distressing for the Singaporean tech scene. The consumer here is getting much less choice than their international counterparts.
This issue is one that slowly built up, and in the same way, will slowly dissipate – only if we do something about it. Sony has been making headway into the Singaporean market with the Z1 and Z Ultra – both have sold encouragingly. They have begun to catch on to Samsung’s tactics and have aggressively pushed the 20.7 MP camera and 6.4 inch display on both devices respectively. While this is not an ideal business practice, it does seem like it’s the only way to go in Singapore.
We can easily make this need redundant by educating ourselves over the various operating systems and devices – it takes little time and it may even be enjoyable for some. Blind faith is not something that we should repeatedly hand over, if at all. This is one case where less is not more.