Samsung promised us radical change – instead it's just doing the same old thing

Samsung Galaxy note 4

Back in late 2014 it looked like Samsung was about to implode. The Tetris blocks that make up our understanding of the tech market were wobbling as the giant's profits tumbled by 60%.

Samsung said it would change its approach to phones entirely to bring things around. And we're just about to go through the same rigmarole with another earnings call.

Except that when you look at things closer, the situation isn't quite as it appears. Yes, Samsung's profits fell by 60%, but we are fundamentally talking about a company in profit, when so many other giants flit between red and black like a nervous roulette player.

But quarter-to-quarter performance is important in any giant corporation, and it seems to have taken hold of the way the Samsung makes phones.


Crazy from the heat

Samsung has shown an almost pathological need to make its expensive phones stand out from the rest, without ever stepping back to assess whether its hand.

Heart rate sensors and fingerprint scanners that barely work. Plastic textured backs that literally no-one out outside of a Samsung board room likes. These things defined Samsung's 2014 in mobile, part of its grand corporate plan to stay market leader.

That was just the beginning. Now Samsung is following those up in 2015 with screens that curve around the sides and, in a rare moment of honest self-improvement, metal edges instead of chromed plastic prone to chipping.

But for the most part, Samsung plugs more and more into its phones until overwhelming public opinion forces it to act against type. This is something we saw in its software: it became more and labyrinthine until this simply became the polar opposite of what people were looking for in 2014.

People-friendly - not

Here we come to the crux of the issue. Samsung's design process is not about what people want or even what they'll come to want when they get their hands on it.

It's more about very conspicuous supposed benefits that can be prodded and listed in bullet-point form, not to mention waved in the faces of shareholders by senior execs. And we've heard more than once about how Samsung's Korea-lead 'top-down' approach can lead to the whims and hunches of a few steering an entire division of thousands.

Now, sometimes this can work wonders, and has led to numerous Samsung innovations. But it is a myopic way to operate.

And, boy, have we seen that in action in Samsung.

Value King

Here's the stinger: Samsung hasn't made a good budget phone since 2012, maybe earlier depending on how picky we're feeling.

The company spent hundreds of millions of dollars marketing the Galaxy S5 and S4, yet its obsession with high margin phones has seen it almost completely ignore an important segment of the western market.

Phone makers may bang on about developing countries and the hundreds of million of untapped customers just waiting to be turned into smartphone drones. But what about people back home who just won't want to spend more than £200 on a SIM-free phone, or £20 on a monthly contract?

Samsung's efforts in this area over the past two years have been embarrassing. The Galaxy Young and Fame were truly dreadful, and its slightly more expensive models are so thin on the ground that Carphone Warehouse still sells the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini. That's a two-and-a-half year-old phone that wasn't much cop in the first place, there to cater for those who simply must have a Galaxy.

Its budget phones coast on the Galaxy name, which makes us wonder: does Samsung think budget phone buyers are plain idiots?

The space you made

Consumers aren't the only one's missing out though, Samsung is missing out too. As we've been shown a couple of times before, there's a massive potential audience for a good, simple, affordable phone.

Andrew Williams

Andrew is a freelance journalist and has been writing and editing for some of the UK's top tech and lifestyle publications including TrustedReviews, Stuff, T3, TechRadar, Lifehacker and others.