It is rare for a company to put such a big bet on something so small. But that is exactly what Samsung seems to have done with its new Galaxy Note 9 flagship. While the Note 9 itself has been refreshed with latest processors, a larger battery, and better cameras, it is the small stylus that pops out of it that the Korean tech giant hopes will help sell this new phone.
At the Barclays Centre, where the new phone was unveiled along with a new smartwatch with LTE connectivity and a smart speaker, all the branding was around the S Pen stylus. That is strange, but also very valid 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, professors who have to make presentations and even those who consume a bit too much of YouTube. The incorporation of Bluetooth has taken this stylus to a whole new level, almost making it a magic wand of sorts.
And it will have to work its magic for Samsung as the Note 9 does not have a better selling point, not its 4000mAh battery, not its powerful water-cooled performance, not its stunning AMOLED screen. It will have to be the S Pen that sells the Note 9 and Samsung knows that. That is why the Samsung president DJ Koh kept talking about loyalty and the Note community. Samsung will need to get a lot of its old Note customers to refresh, tempted by the much-improved S Pen, and also get some of the new users to come in for the new features it is offering. When it comes to just the Note 9, there isn’t much else that hasn’t been done before.
Shobhit Srivastava, a research analyst at Counterpoint, was optimistic about the stylus. “The S Pen is at the core of overall Note series experience and Samsung has done improvement on the same which will drive the overall experience and bring in stickiness for Note users,” he said, adding that along with this 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. Note series is likely to do well in the segment.”
While the Chinese competitors might take on Samsung on offering similar specs at a better 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 Note 9 to do what it is expected to: improve the overall sales for the brand, which has not really done well with the Samsung Galaxy S9. That might be a tough call as the Note 9 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 niche these days.
Wayne Lam, Principal Analyst at IHS Markit, termed the Note 9 “an incremental design update” and said the changes will appeal to the core customer base and the short exclusivity with Fortnite may draw in new and younger demographic. “However, this is still a $1000 device (hence, hard to justify for most consumers) and will appeal likely more to enterprise,” he said in a mailed response sent to indianexpress.com.
However, Lam is expecting 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,” he added. Now, to see if the stylus can write a new success story for Samsung.
The author is in New York attending the Galaxy Note 9 launch on the invite of Samsung India