The S4 Design Stinks; Does It Matter?

David Pierce at The Verge (all emphasis is mine):

I don’t like holding this phone, and I can’t overstate how much that informs the experience of using it. It makes an awful first impression, slippery and slimy and simply unpleasant in your hand. My white review unit is completely smooth and glossy, with a subtle checkered pattern that looks textured but is neither grippy nor textured anywhere on its body. Even the silver band around the sides, which is obviously supposed to look like metal, is plastic. Everyone I showed the GS4 to frowned and wrinkled their nose as if it smelled bad, before rubbing their fingers on the back of the phone and then handing it back to me — that’s the opposite of the standard reaction to HTC’s One, which everyone wants to ogle and hold. That’s going to be a huge problem for Samsung, because the GS4 and One are likely to be next to each other on store shelves, and at least on first impression there’s absolutely no contest between the two.

Walt Mossberg is even more blunt:

I urge readers looking for a new Android smartphone to carefully consider the more polished-looking, and quite capable, HTC One, rather than defaulting to the latest Samsung.

So the S4 is a hodgepodge of features, wrapped in an unattractive case (which, it should be noted, allows for more features like a removable battery). And it won’t matter one bit.1

The S4 will mop the floor with the HTC One. In fact, I wrote exactly that in my first post:

The Samsung Galaxy 4 reviews should be rolling in shortly. They will recount the screen, processor, camera, face detection tech — every speed and feed there is will be dissected, discussed, and scored. Said features will be compared, first to the recently released HTC One, and most certainly to the iPhone 5. And most of it will have little to no use in explaining Samsung’s success. Speeds and feeds don’t matter in the mobile value chain.

The problem for HTC is that both Pierce and Mossberg make erroneous assumptions:

  • The HTC One and S4 won’t be next to each other on store shelves. Instead, the HTC One will be buried (as it already is – see the bottom picture here), and the S4 will have it’s own display stand (Samsung will pay).
  • The sort of person who reads this blog may “look for a new Android smartphone.” And, unfortunately, I don’t have that many readers…

    To put it another way, if someone prioritizes design, they’ll likely buy an iPhone; if they prioritize features, they’ll buy an S4. And if they have no idea, overwhelming marketing and Samsung-incentivized salespeople will make the choice for them.

It is exceedingly rare for any mobile device to succeed based purely on product.2 The iPhone is one. I doubt there is room for another.3

  1. For the record, I really, really hope I’m wrong []
  2. Other factors that matter: marketing, channel, price, distribution, etc. The only other exception that springs to mind is the Motorola Razr []
  3. In many respects, the HTC One may end up similar to Windows Phone: well-reviewed, but not well-sold []