Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat—South Korean electronics giant Samsung has captured the lion’s share of the global smartphone market over the previous year, and now hopes to make further inroads to the Middle East, which has proven to be one of the regions with the fastest take-ups of tablet devices.
On the sidelines of its Middle East 2014 forum currently taking place in Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat met with smartphones regional production manager at Samsung Middle East, Abdul Karim Sowan, to discuss the company’s plans for the future in the region and the future of the smartphone and tablet sectors.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What are the most important signs given by sales figures and the growth in the smartphone sector in 2013?
Abdul Karim Sowan: Samsung still represents a very strong brand in the Middle East and North Africa, where it saw a growth of 38 percent during last year. Despite the challenges we faced in the market, we enjoyed a strong year where Samsung achieved in 2013 the highest revenue and operating profit so far, and we were one of the top 10 global brands of 2013—achieving 8th place in world rankings.
In the last quarter of 2013, Samsung sold 40 million tablets, representing 20 percent of the market share, according to International Data Corporation (IDC) research. While in the mobile phone sector, we managed to gain 35 percent of the smartphone market, selling more than 100 million units of Galaxy S and Note series.
Q: What are the most popular products in 2013?
We have been very pleased with the continued success of the Galaxy S phone and the Note models, which achieved strong success last year. We expect this momentum to continue in 2014 where our products continue to grow.
Q: What are the challenges facing the smartphone sector?
Our style is characterized by working hard to discover and innovate, and we at Samsung believe that we have the capacity to expand in the mobile phone market, especially in developing countries, where the spread of smartphones is still slow. We will continue to be innovative and invent products such as Galaxy Gear to increase our growth in the mobile phone market, especially in the advanced smartphone sector, and we are preparing to introduce new and innovative technology to the market soon.
Q: What are Samsung’s expectations in the smartphone sector in the Middle East and North Africa in light of strong competition in the mobile phone market?
According to a report by IDC in September 2013, the sales of tablets exceeded sales of laptops in the Middle East and North Africa market for the first time in the second quarter of 2013, when it saw an increase of 208 percent. This tendency will continue in 2014 when users will have more freedom to move with their devices, and where companies develop products that provide better capability and mobility to mix between home, work and play.
Samsung will continue to strengthen its position in the market by focusing more effectively on improving its programs and releasing products that totally focus on a digital working environment that is capable of introducing devices, content and great apps. And instead of trying to control the digital working environment as a whole, we will call on the main manufacturers to join with us to take advantage of a joint-venture environment. We have carried out notable activity in increasing support for the product around this joint-venture environment.
Q: What is the future of the growth of the smartphone sector at Samsung?
We will achieve this target through continuing innovation. Samsung innovations always target individuals, and we do not think that one product is suitable for all. We think that the Samsung tablet is the most used in the market, and provides a large number of lifestyle options with features that offer the best options for individual needs. Samsung believes it has the capacity to expand in the mobile phone market.
Q: Do you build partnerships with other companies to provide Arabic language content and apps in the Middle East and North Africa?
The NotePRO and TabPRO phones are equipped with various products that help users manage their personal and professional lives, and in search of the added value and the innovative product rights, the value of our partnerships reaches 700 million US dollars from pre-paid contracts and long-term contracts with the best-selling news agencies and providers of cloud storage services, which include Bloomberg, Business Week, Dropbox, Pro4 Tablet, Evernote, Hancom Office for Android, LinkedIn, the New York Times, the Oxford Advanced Learners and SketchBook Pro.
Samsung also provides its customers in the region with 25 titles of local and foreign magazines on the smartphones and tablets, which could use the content without effort, even when busy, and we look to increase the titles to more than 100 magazines in the near future to offer more information and varied content to our customers.
Q: What are the future plans for Samsung Tab? Will there be new models? How will Samsung beat the strong competition in this market?
We are very pleased this year to reveal the Samsung Galaxy NotePRO and the TabPRO in the sector of tablets, which have set new standards in this field. These two products have been equipped with advanced technology, which enables them to redefine the capability of a tablet. This new product comes in four powerful models which are: Galaxy NotePRO with a 12.2 inch screen, and three other sizes of the TabPRO, with screen sizes of 12.2, 10.1, and 8.4 inches. We also introduce the Galaxy NotePRO and TabPRO series at the start of this year, which saw Samsung sitting at the top spot of the tablet market.
This new line provides the best use of content and productivity and proves our commitment to providing a varied and exceptional product that suits the tastes of all tablet users. And with the growth of the tablet market, we noticed that these computers were used for specific aims and that users could not enjoy the productivity as much as they would like to with the tablets currently available in the market. Also, we aim to bolster the position of Samsung in the market to provide the clients’ needs ahead of fashion. We also design products that are capable of understanding the customer content environment in the Middle East and North Africa to suit limited and large needs.
Q: Do you plan to build strategic partnerships with communications companies in the Middle East and North Africa?
Due to the expansion of the market and the fact that Samsung provides an advanced range of innovative products at competitive prices, we will continue to strengthen the partnerships we have already built and evaluate any new opportunities which support the delivery of our products to the largest number of customers in the region.
This is an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic.