2012 in review: Samsung rises

Features Marin Perez 12:02, Nov 20 2012

Year in review: Samsung rises to prominence with devices like the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2

As 2012 winds down, we take a look at the year each major player had in the mobile space. Look for a new story each week until the end of 2012. 

Samsung used 2012 to establish itself as the largest player in the Android space and through a series of excellent devices, nice marketing and quality products, it has become a true rival to Apple in the smartphone space. It did face a few setbacks though, so let's take a look at Samsung's year. 


Galaxy S3

Every year, the world anxiously awaits the release of the next iPhone. From now on, it seems like the most-anticipated devices will be the iPhone and the next Galaxy S handset. Samsung has made its flagship brand every bit as good as Apple's and don't look for it to stop moving forward. 

The Galaxy S3 was introduced in the first half of the year and it still remains one of the best phones on the market. Depending on which version you're looking at, the Galaxy S3 will have a quad-core or dual-core processor, a stunning 4.8-inch display, an 8-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, NFC, GPS, 4G LTE and nearly anything else you'd want in a high-end smartphone. 

It's not just stats or specs, as the Galaxy S3 really shines when it comes to polish and design. In our full review, we were effusive in our praise of the hardware, software and the entire ecosystem built around it. 

Samsung was also able to release a clever and sustained marketing campaign around the Galaxy S3 and I'll include one of the ads in a video below. Marketing is one aspect that people tend to underestimate but part of the iPhone's success is due to its strong ads. Samsung realized this and marketed the heck out of its flagship handset - I even remember Galaxy S3 booths at a local jazz festival. 

It also helps that Samsung was able to get the Galaxy S3 on a ton of carriers, as you can pick it up on nearly every single major carrier in the United States. 


For more Galaxy S3 information, be sure to read: 

Samsung Galaxy S3: 30 Tips and Tricks

Galaxy S3 Review

Apple iPhone 5 vs. Samsung Galaxy S3

Galaxy Note 2 

Samsung has managed to build up the Galaxy S brand into a juggernaut but it's not a one-hit wonder company.

The company released the first Galaxy Note last year to some initial skepticism but the over-sized handset managed to sell more than 10 million units, so it was no surprise to see the Galaxy Note 2 come out this year with an even larger screen. With a 5.5-inch display, the Galaxy Note 2 really makes you wonder if this is a phone or a tablet. 

The Galaxy Note 2 is every bit as impressive as the Galaxy S3 because the large handset is a marvel of engineering. That 5.5-inch display has a 720p HD resolution, is thinner than last year's model and still feels like a premium handset. Throw in a blazing-fast 1.6GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, GPS, Wi-Fi, S Pen, support for 4G LTE and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and the Galaxy Note 2 is arguable the most powerful handset on the market. 

The Galaxy Note 2 is also going to wind up as a massive sales hit and it landed on all the major U.S. carriers. Throw in a celebrity endorsement from one of the top athletes in the world and Samsung looks like it has the pieces in place to have a mega-device for each half of the year moving forward.

Check out the Galaxy Note 2 ad with LeBron James below.

For more information on the Galaxy Note 2, please read:

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Review

Galaxy Note 2 vs. Nexus 4

The Apple lawsuit

It wasn't all lollipops and roses for Samsung in 2012, as it faced a lengthy public battle against Apple over mobile patents. This trial reached a quasi-conclusion when a jury found that Samsung copied Apple patents and required that Samsung pay Apple more than $1 billion as a penalty.

Samsung is appealing the verdict and there's a real chance it may be overturned due to a jury member not properly disclosing his past but the verdict was still a blow for the Galaxy S maker in terms of public perception. I really do think that Samsung has been able to create its own innovative stuff with its lineup but it's very tough to say that devices like the original Galaxy S don't take a lot from the iPhone. 

Samsung is fighting back against Apple with some of its own patent lawsuits and it definitely has the resources to continue this battle. Even if Samsung has to pay the $1 billion verdict, the company makes about that much in revenues every 2.4 days. Additionally, it is now firmly on equal footing with Apple when it comes to the hearts and minds of smartphone fans.  


The Challenges


Samsung is well positioned in the smartphone space with the Galaxy S, Galaxy Note and the rest of its lineup but it's unclear how successful it can be in the other categories of connected devices. It brought out ho-hum updates to its tablet lineup in 2012 and it's not clear if it can really challenge the iPad in a meaningful way. 

Samsung did make the Nexus 10 tablet and it features a better-than Retina Display, so it has the technical chops to be a strong contender in the tablet market. I'm still a big believer that tablets will outpace PC sales and usage in the not-too-distant future, so I think it's important for Samsung to really carve out its own space. 

Samsung also took some interesting chances this year including the Galaxy Camera, an Android-powered digital camera with integrated cellular connection. At a whopping $500 price tag on contract with AT&T, I don't expect it to do very well but it lays the groundwork for a new class of devices. I could easily see the Galaxy Camera evolving into a strong digital camera that could find a following.  

The Galaxy lineup appears to be set for Samsung but it can't get too complacent or it risks companies like HTC or LG leapfrogging it. Additionally, we may see Google or Microsoft really jump into the smartphone space in a larger way next year and that could definitely have a big impact on Samsung. 

One long-term weakness for Samsung is that it does not control the platforms it uses to sell its hardware. Even though it does customization, it's still reliant on Google for Android and Microsoft for Windows Phone. This doesn't appear to be a fatal flaw in the near future but don't be surprised to see Samsung make some small moves to be more in control of its own destiny. 


Samsung in 2013

Other than Apple, Samsung probably has the rosiest outlook for 2013. Unless something drastic happens, we expect Samsung to have a Galaxy S4 in the first half of the year and a Galaxy Note 3 in the second half. Both devices should be amazing and should sell extremely well. 

The tablet outlook for Samsung isn't as good but maybe the third time will be the charm. It did take the Galaxy S lineup three years to get on equal footing as the iPhone, so perhaps the Tab will follow that history. Other divisions of Samsung also still supply many of the parts for competitors like Apple, so the boom in mobile devices should lift Samsung's boat a lot. It also makes fantastic televisions and other electronics. 

What will be interesting to watch is how Samsung can maintain and build upon the mainstream appeal it picked up in 2012. This was the first year that I heard non-techie people get legitimately excited about a phone that wasn't the iPhone and more often than not, it was a Galaxy. I'll put it another way: We'll know Samsung has really arrived if we see the next Galaxy unveiling land on the front of newspapers like the new iPhone does. 

Samsung and Apple are currently the only manufacturers making any real profits on the smartphone space and it's unclear how the competition will react in 2013. Companies like RIM and Nokia may continue to stagger or fold entirely but these could be replaced by giants like Google (with Motorola) or Microsoft (buying Nokia) making a larger play for mobile customers. 

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