It’s not a 4000mAh battery or the stunning screen; it’s the S Pen which is the top selling point of the Note9.
As we reached the Barclays Center venue in Brooklyn, New York, for the launch of the new Samsung Galaxy Note9, there was something very rare on show. The odd-looking but imposing Oculus screens did not display visuals of the Note9, but the S Pen stylus that has been an integral part of this large-screen smartphone from Samsung for years. The message was clear, this device was all about its accessory.
It is rare for a company to put such a big bet on something so small. But Samsung seems to have done just that with its new Galaxy Note9 flagship. The Note9 now has the latest processors, a larger battery and better cameras, but it is the small stylus that pops out of it that the Korean tech giant hopes will help sell this new phone.
In Brooklyn, where the phone was unveiled along with a new smart watch with LTE connectivity and a smart speaker, all the branding was around the S Pen. Though strange, it is a valid move given that there is no other phone as unique as the Samsung Galaxy Note thanks to its stylus. And this very stylus has become smarter. If it earlier appealed to the compulsive doodler, now it will find favour among the selfie addicts, entrepreneurs who have to make presentations and even those who consume all their videos on YouTube. The incorporation of Bluetooth has taken this stylus to a whole new level, almost making it a magic wand of sorts.
It will have to work its magic for Samsung as the Note9 does not have a better selling point, not its 4000mAh battery, not its powerful water-cooled performance, not even its stunning AMOLED screen. It will have to be the S Pen that helps sell the Note9, and Samsung knows that.
That’s why DJ Koh, president & CEO, IT & Mobile Communications Division, Samsung Electronics, kept talking about loyalty and Note community. Samsung will need to get a lot of its old Note customers to refresh, tempted by the much-improved S Pen, and get some new users to come in for new features it is offering.
The Note9 itself doesn’t venture much into territories that haven’t been trod. Optimistic about its scope, Shobhit Srivastava, research analyst at Counterpoint, said: “The S Pen is at the core of overall Note series experience and Samsung has improved on the same, which will bring in stickiness for Note users”. Also, he said, the new productivity options will offer something for the enterprise user. “The global premium smartphone market contributes to almost one-fifth of the total smartphone market. The Note series is likely to do well in the segment”.
While Chinese competitors might take on Samsung by offering similar specs at a lower price, it will be tough for them to get the finesse of the S Pen, something that Samsung has nurtured, improved and evolved over the years.
But will that be enough for the Note9 to do what it is expected to—improve the overall sales for the brand, which has not really done well with the Galaxy S9? That might be a tough call, as the Note9 might not be a mass phone that it needs to be to rake in the volumes. Also, anything with a community and loyal user base tends to be a niche these days.
Wayne Lam, principal analyst at IHS Markit, termed the Note9 “an incremental design update” and said changes will appeal to the core customer base and the short exclusivity with Fortnite may draw in new, younger demographic. “However, this is still a $1,000 device (hence, hard to justify for most consumers) and will appeal likely more to enterprise,” he said in an emailed response. Lam expects bigger design changes and innovations coming in the new year, along with 5G connectivity. “Like the iPhone 7 was an incremental update to iPhone 6, giving Apple another year to introduce the iPhone X, I believe Samsung is doing the same here”.
Now to see if the stylus can write a new success story for Samsung.
(The author was in New York on the invite of Samsung India)