South Korea’s Samsung launched the latest version of its oversized Galaxy Note smartphone earlier than expected Wednesday after US rival Apple reported record sales of its latest iPhone 6.
Samsung said the Galaxy Note 4 — initially scheduled for launch in October — would hit stores in South Korea and China this week before being sold in 140 nations by the end of next month.
It would be the first time a flagship Samsung product has gone on sale in China ahead of other markets, reflecting the firm’s desire to battle growing competition from cheaper Chinese-made rivals.
The decision to bring forward the launch also came after rival Apple reported a record opening weekend for its latest range of iPhones, including the iPhone 6 Plus — the US firm’s first foray into the big-screen market.
Sales topped 10 million in just three days following Friday’s launch in the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Puerto Rico and Singapore.
The new iPhone is not yet available in China.
Samsung initially pioneered the market for the “phablet” devices — sized between a smartphone and a tablet computer — when it introduced its Galaxy Note series in 2011.
Along with the Galaxy S smartphones, they helped the South Korean giant dethrone Apple as the world’s top smartphone maker.
Samsung has been poking Apple in ads portraying the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus as inspired by the Note’s size.
For the past three years, the arch-rivals have been locked in a battle of litigative attrition in close to a dozen countries, with each accusing the other of infringing various patents related to their smartphones and tablets.
But neither has managed to deliver a knock-out blow with a number of rulings going different ways. Last month the companies agreed to drop all patent disputes outside the United States.
Samsung has a diverse product line ranging from memory chips to home appliances, but more than half its profits are generated by mobile devices.
– Saturated smartphone market –
The mobile market has become increasingly saturated, while competition has intensified from cheaper Chinese handset makers such as Huawei and Lenovo.
In July, Samsung reported a 20 percent drop in net profit for the second quarter, and its shares are sitting at a two-year low.
Its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5, reportedly suffered sluggish sales after tepid reviews greeted its April launch.
“We are temporarily going through a difficult business situation,” Lee Don-Joo, head of sales and marketing for Samsung’s mobile unit, told reporters at Wednesday’s launch in Seoul
“But…we hope that we would be able to recover soon based on our fundamental capability for technical innovation,” Lee said.
Sales of Galaxy Note 3 topped 10 million in two months after its launch in 2013, and Lee predicted the Note 4 would outperform that.
The 5.7-inch Note 4 — priced at 957,000 won ($920)– comes with S-pen stylus allowing users to draw and write on the screen and perform various tasks simultaneously.
The presence of a stylus pen — not offered by iPhone 6 — offers a “unique input methodology,” said Lee Young-Hee, executive vice president of Samsung’s mobile unit.
There is a general consensus that smartphone evolution has hit a barrier that will only allow incremental improvements on existing design and technology, rather than market-changing reinvention.
According to International Data Corp., a record-high 295.3 million smartphones were shipped worldwide in the second quarter.
Samsung remained the world’s top vendor, moving 74 million handsets, but saw its overall market share slip seven percentage points to 25.2 percent, while China’s Huawei nearly doubled its shipments from the same quarter a year ago.
Samsung also announced Wednesday it plans an October launch for a new version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, as well as a virtual reality headset, Gear VR.
The firm has ramped up efforts to promote Internet-enabled wearable devices in a move towards the market for the Internet of Things, in which household appliances and electronic devices are connected through the network.
Apple unveiled its “Apple Watch” earlier this month, with plans to get it into stores early next year.