Samsung Galaxy Tab S goes head to head against the iPad for the first time

Samsung today announced the Samsung Galaxy Tab S, a “flagship” tablet that joins other tablets in Samsung’s existing lineup. The comment below may be attributed to Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research.

The first reaction by many people to the launch of a supposed “flagship” tablet from Samsung may be surprise, since it already has a number of high-end tablets in the market at similar price points to the iPad, the market leader in the premium segment. In reality, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S is less a flagship product but the first of Samsung’s tablets to go head-to-head against the iPad as a consumption-centric device. Samsung has pursued a smart strategy in the tablet market of differentiating each of its devices in some way against the iPad, originally by creating smaller tablets and later by featuring a stylus, multitasking and larger screens. But it’s never before had a tablet that looked like it was so explicitly intended to go up against the iPad.

The two versions of the Tab S look and feel very much like the iPad Air and Mini respectively, at least from the front. They are very similar sizes and weights, albeit with longer, thinner aspect ratios. They’re priced identically, too. And for the first time, Samsung is really emphasizing viewing rather than creativity or productivity as the main feature, with a super AMOLED screen that’s noticeably brighter and sharper than the iPad screens. However, what lets the flagship message down somewhat is that, other than the screen, there’s little to mark these devices out as premium entrants in the market. They use similar materials to the Galaxy S5, itself an increasing anomaly among premium smartphones for its use of plastic rather than metal finishes. Regardless of this, Samsung’s release of the Tab S is a sign of increased confidence on its part in going head to head against the iPad, a device few contenders have taken on directly at the same price point.

One worry is that retailers and consumers will get confused by the sheer number of Samsung tablets available, with Tab, Tab Lite, Tab Pro, Note, Note Pro and now Tab S tablets in the market, at as many as four different sizes. Most retailers will struggle to stock more than a couple of these options, but Samsung appears to see the Tab S as its main tablet going forward, with the Note and Tab lines meeting specific needs for productivity-centric and price-sensitive customers. It’s also not clear that the screen alone will convince would-be iPad customers to make the switch, especially since Android tablets continue to suffer from poorer apps and content options. Samsung is addressing the latter issue with its ongoing Galaxy Gifts program, offering free trials to premium apps and content, and with digital magazines customized for the specific dimensions and capabilities of the Tab S. But in a world where Apple still dominates the premium end of the tablet market as competitors continue to vacuum up much of the low- and mid-tier opportunity, it’s not clear that the Tab S will make significant inroads.

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