Galaxy Note drives boom in demand for Samsung

Monday, April 9, 2012
By Jeremy Wagstaff and Miyoung Kim,Reuters

It's been likened to a piece of toast, a device for elephants and a throwback to the 1980s-style brick phone.

And yet, despite all the sniggering, Samsung Electronics has sold five million of the phone/tablet Galaxy Note, helping drive its booming handset profits in the quarter just ended.

More than a freak hit, consumer and design experts believe the surprise success of the “phablet” marks a deeper shift in the fast-paced world of mobile devices.

The most obvious thing about the Note is its size. Its 5.3 inch (13.5 cm) screen is almost as wide as the iPhone's screen is long. And then there's the stylus.

Where Apple's co-founder, the late Steve Jobs famously ridiculed the idea of using a pen to interact with a screen, Samsung has partnered with Japan's Wacom Co. Ltd., a market leader in digital pen technology, to come up with something less clunky. As part of Samsung's marketing blitz it has set up artists in malls to draw portraits of passers-by.

Samsung says it hopes to sell at least 10 million Notes devices this year.

But why, exactly, are people buying it?

Samsung's Lee Jui Siang, mobile phone chief for Southeast Asia, Oceania and Taiwan, says people want to only carry one device — and especially one that allows handwriting. He points to a global survey of 5,000 smartphone users which indicated demand for handwritten annotations was particularly high in Asia.

But the Note's designer sees things slightly differently. Samsung Vice President Lee Minhyouk said the design risk was “breaking a taboo” about keeping handsets small enough to fit easily in your hand.

“Smartphones are more about entertainment. The Note was created by simply breaking that taboo and focusing more on the new functions that smartphones require,” Lee told Reuters.

The Note has its detractors. It's a “polarizing device,” says IDC analyst Melissa Chua. Gizmodo, a popular gadget website, has routinely insulted the device's size, attracting strong reactions, for and against. Its most recent post in late March elicited nearly 1,500 comments, a third more than the next most commented article that month.

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