Samsung is hurting. Their operating profit is down by 25% (from last year). The Galaxy S5 isn’t selling nearly as well as a flagship device should. The juggernaut is befuddled. They have led the Android race for some time, but now that the competition is picking up speed, the outcome of that race isn’t nearly the “given” that everyone thought it would be.

Samsung has plenty of justification for this drop in profit (appreciation of its home country’s currency, pinning 500 billion won — $488 million — in missed revenues on the foreign exchange market, and pre-existing inventories in European markets made selling its products tougher). What they do not seem to be taking into consideration is the idea that the Galaxy line of smartphones is simply not what the public wants. The company effectively took an already undesirable device design and moved it sideways with a few improvements under the hood. To borrow from a worn out phrase, they snatched up a pig from the local farm and put lipstick on it — but the thing is, we can all still see it’s a pig.

What Samsung needs is simple: a better design team. Yes, they understand that phones need powerful features (like a Quad HD display, a beast of a processor, a professional-quality camera, blah blah blah) and they tend to deliver on those goods. However, they slap an unwieldy, unattractive package around those goods, plus slap on some features that no one really cares about, and call it “flagship” device. All the while, HTC, LG, and Xiaomi are pumping out more powerful devices that also happen to fall in line with what the public wants.

Let’s look at Apple for a moment. I’ll say up front that I’ve never been (and am not) a fan of the iOS platform. But the hardware they supply is exactly in line with public demand — it’s the right size, the right weight, and it doesn’t feel cheap. HTC did the same thing with the M8 (though some might complain it’s a bit long). Look at the Motorola Moto X… perfect size, with a high quality look and feel.

You see where I’m going with this.

There is one ugly truth that smartphone manufacturers cannot deny — their products are as much status symbols as they are working products. It’s like Beats Headphones. If you’re an audiophile, you scoff at the product. If you want to appear hip and cool, you slap a pair of those bad boys on and make do with the sound quality.

Samsung has to understand that appearance is very, very important when it comes to smartphones. If they want to recapture the lead in a race that is becoming harder to win, they are going to have to go back to the drawing board, hire some of the keenest designers on the planet, and craft something everyone wants.

  • Don’t make it too big
  • Don’t make it feel cheap
  • Don’t keep the physical home button
  • Don’t keep that hideous back cover

If you look at the competition and compare their flagship devices to the Galaxy line of phones, you start seeing a theme. The competition phones all look sleek, they feel substantial, and they (and this is important) do not look like toys. Every Galaxy S4 and S5 I see always makes me think I’m looking at a toy phone… and that’s a shame, considering that there’s a lot of power inside that cheap, plastic body.

I don’t believe Samsung is a lost cause. They can easily turn this around by changing the trajectory of their flagship phone. Here’s my two-step suggestion to pull back ahead of this race:

  • Move the Galaxy line of phones to serve as a low-cost, high-end device (similar to Xiaomi’s Mi line)
  • Create a new smartphone (with a totally different aesthetic as the Galaxy) to serve as the flagship device

Those two steps would help them pull ahead of competition that is gaining more steam. This would need to happen before a company like Xiaomi managed to gain inroads into the US market — otherwise, it could be a lost cause.

Samsung can’t expect that just tweaking the Galaxy line will bring them back to glory. They need something new, something they can convince the consumer is a must-have. As much as we hate to admit it, this race will be won by the device that offers the perfect combination of function and form. Samsung only needs to glance around at the competition to see what’s popular, what’s selling, and what’s winning this race.

What do you think? Can Samsung remake its flagship line in time to prevent the competition from zooming ahead and winning the race? Share your opinion in the discussion thread below.

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