Can Samsung stage a flawless Galaxy S4 release?

March 13, 2013
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Samsung is trying to avoid the manufacturing problems that caused it last year to lose over two million Galaxy S3 sales. Will Samsung succeed where Apple and HTC have failed?

As I write these words, thousands of people in Korea are working hard to build the Galaxy S4. How many? Only Samsung knows, but last year, Sebastian Anthony from Extreme Tech estimated the workforce necessary to manufacture the Galaxy S3 at about 75,000 people. This year, the number is likely to be higher, simply because Samsung needs to build more Galaxy S4 units.

We seldom think about the amount of work, both intellectual and physical, that goes into a device like the Galaxy S4. The logistic effort alone is tremendous, not to mention the extremely laborious task of securing enough components to build millions of smartphones, under strict deadlines and across world-spanning supply chains.

Manufacturing problems tend to cascade. If you don’t have the camera sensors, you obviously won’t be able to assemble a phone. Just ask HTC.

When the back plate is the culprit, you can get away with just a relatively small delay. That happened last year, when Samsung brass made the last minute decision to ditch the original Pebble Blue back plates of the Galaxy S3, which were deemed unsatisfactory due to issues with their glazed finish. Still, the hitch cost Samsung two million lost sales and a botched global launch.

This year, Samsung is trying to avoid similar problems, and according to analysts quoted by Reuters, the Korean company has been implementing backup plans.

Analyst Lee Seung-woo, working for IBK Securities, said that for now, everything seems to go according to plan. However, there’s little margin for error, with crucial components like the screen, processor, and even the case being of “particular concern”:

“Handset cases again appear to be in tight supply, and Samsung may use two different processors to maximize battery efficiency through the right combination of chips for different network conditions to yield the best performance,” Noh said.

Samsung is said to be gearing up to deliver 10 million Galaxy S4 units in the first month of availability, with lifetime sales estimated at a lofty 100 million units. I expect to see a tightly coordinated global release for the Galaxy S4. Just like last year, it’s probable that markets in Asia and Europe will get it first, followed by North America.

In the past two years, Samsung has accumulated a lot of experience in staging and conducting big product launches, and not only in terms of manufacturing. Samsung now has far more negotiation power when it comes to carriers, a superior brand, and the marketing budget required to make the Galaxy S4 ubiquitous.

It remains to be seen whether the rollout will go as planned, or the Galaxy S4 will suffer delays as it happened with the iPhone 5, or it’s happening right now with the HTC One.

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