While carrying out some research for this blog post, I charted the Google Trends graph (see image, below), which pits the (LG-built) Google Nexus 4 against the Samsung Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note 2, plus the Apple iPhone 5 and the iPhone 4S.
The graph depicts how search for these terms has varied on Google, over the past 90 days. And based on that, it is clear that the Nexus 4 is something of a force to be reckoned with.
It is nowhere near as popular as the iPhone 5, but it is telling that this smartphone – which was launched in October 2012 - was able to get almost as many search queries as the Galaxy S3 towards the end of January (as it was back in stock again) and consistently outpaced the Galaxy Note 2.
As to the reasons which I believe will prevent the S4 from being as successful as the Galaxy S3 (assuming that at least some of the rumours about that handset are true), they are three-fold, two of which are either directly or indirectly related to the Nexus 4.
The Google Nexus 4
The arrival of the Nexus 4 changed a lot of things on the market when it was launched. This was a smartphone that provided almost everything you’d expect from a top end smartphone, but for half the price.
Only, it was almost continuously out-of-stock until the beginning of this year which, combined with a rapid drop in monthly contract prices from all the smartphones based on a quad-core processor (LG Optimus 4X HD, Galaxy S3 and HTC One X), prevented it from being an outright market leader.
To put it bluntly, if Google avoids similar pitfalls with the Nexus 4+ or Nexus 5, it may well decide how successful (or not) the Galaxy S4 will be. If Google decides to launch the followup of the Nexus 4 (or even proactively leak news that it will launch) over the next few months, that could well have a negative impact on sales of the S4.
Prospective customers would wait for Google’s new smartphone before making up their minds on which device to purchase, especially given the fact that the next Nexus will almost certainly ship with the latest version of Android - version 5.0 Key Lime Pie - as has been the case for the last few years.
The last paragraph of this article by Gordon Kelly (Is Matias Duarte the man to make or break Android?) shows that we’re potentially heading for a MAD-like scenario with Samsung and Google between the two protagonists fighting it out.
Samsung has already committed significant resources (and has received backing form the likes of Intel) for its own OS, Tizen, possibly as a plan B while Google is keen to take a more commanding role in Android’s destiny, like Microsoft did with Windows.
What’s more, the S4 will face some serious competition from the two other super smartphones already out, the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z. The latter has benefitted from a particularly strong marketing drive on behalf of Sony, with mobile phone operators pushing SIM-free offers starting from as low as £455, days after it debuted at £550. Contracts carrying a monthly total cost of ownership as little as £21.33 (or £512 over two years) are also a tempting proposition for those looking for a new handset.
LG, Huawei and ZTE shouldn’t be far behind with their latest top-of-the-range smartphones, all of which were already announced at CES and MWC, with the only other missing party, Motorola, being kept in check by its owner, Google. On top of that, despite being small fish, both BlackBerry (with the Z10) and Microsoft (with an array of top of the range smartphones), could lure some potential S4 customers, especially those who might be miffed by its rumoured plastic-finish.
Is the Galaxy S3 the biggest rival of the S4?
The other reason which we believe will affect how the S4 sells, is the fact that the differences between the Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy S4 may not warrant the price difference, which we reckon will be around a third.
It is likely that, as in previous years, the S4 will debut north of £500 in order to position itself as a rival to the £529 Apple iPhone 5, before then starting a year-long journey that will see its price fall by around 30 per cent, until the next version hits the market. This has been the case for the original Galaxy, the Galaxy S2 and Galaxy S3.
So the question that arises is whether existing Galaxy S3 users will consider buying a £550 Galaxy S4, or if non-Galaxy users will consider whether the potential £200 difference will favour the old flagship smartphone (the Samsung Galaxy S3 costs as little as £350 for a non-LTE supporting model).
The Samsung Galaxy S4 is set to be released on Thursday night and ITProPortal will be reporting on that night. The device will be released in New York.