NEW YORK--Samsung's assault on Apple is under way, as the company unveils its plans for its new tablet PC as well as a new service that allows consumers to purchase or rent TV shows and movies on their Samsung mobile devices.
At an event here at the Time Warner Center tonight, Samsung took the wraps off its iPad-killer, the Galaxy Tab. It also announced a new service called Media Hub, an iTunes-like service, which allows consumers to buy and rent movies and TV shows for their Samsung portable devices.
The announcements follow Samsung's launch earlier this summer of the Galaxy S smartphone, the closest competitor Samsung has to the iconic Apple iPhone.
The new Galaxy Tab and Galaxy S smartphone run the Google Android operating system, an open software platform that rivals Apple iOS, which is used on the iPhone and iPad.
While the smartphone market is already well established with several key manufacturers duking it out for market share, the tablet PC market is only just getting started. The iPad, which has come to define the segment, only came out on the market in April. Apple sold 3 million in the first 80 days it was on the market.
Analysts say there is plenty of room for other entrants. Since the iPad launch, several companies have announced plans for products that tap into this market. And as many handset manufacturers have done in the past, tablet PC makers are turning to the Google Android operating system as the foundation of their products. Dell, Acer, Motorola, and LG Electronics have each said they have plans to make Android-based tablets.
The Galaxy Tab could be among the most competitive in the near term, according to RBC Capital equities analyst Mark Sue.
"It's still very early days in this market," he said. "There are fifty-some companies building tablets, but the early leaders seem to be the handset makers. Companies, such as Samsung, Motorola, and HTC will have an edge over the Netbook computing companies."
There are clear differences between Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Apple's iPad. For example, the Galaxy Tab is smaller and lighter than the iPad. It offers twice the RAM as the iPad. It also offers an expandable microSD storage slot. Apple's device is limited to the internal storage space only.
The Galaxy Tab has two cameras: a 3.2-megapixel camera that faces outward and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera, which can be used for video chatting. The iPad doesn't have any cameras. Samsung claims the Galaxy Tab offers up to 7 hours of video playtime; the iPad can last up to 10 hours, according to Apple.
On the software side, the big difference with the Galaxy Tab is that it uses Google Android 2.2, which allows for Adobe Flash. This enables video playback and other multimedia elements to play on the device. Apple doesn't support Flash on any of its products. Meanwhile, Apple supports thousands more applications in its iTunes App Store. But Samsung executives say the Galaxy Tab has access to the Android Market and will also have many more optimized apps on the way.
Another key difference between the devices is that Samsung has chosen to work with multiple carrier partners. In fact, the Galaxy Tab will be available on each of the four major U.S. wireless operators. By contrast, Apple has chosen a single, exclusive carrier partner in the U.S., AT&T, for both its iPhone and iPad.
It's too early in the tablet PC market to say whether this strategy will help Samsung gain significant market share. But working closely with wireless operators may benefit the device maker long term as it tries to get its products and services into more consumer hands.
"Wireless providers have had a love/hate relationship with Apple," Sue said. "Samsung certainly has a friendlier approach."
Putting a price on the Galaxy Tab
Samsung hasn't yet released pricing for Galaxy Tab. The company said its carrier partners will announce product pricing and 3G wireless data pricing for the device later.
Pricing could be a key factor in adoption. If carrier partners subsidize the tablet and offer affordable data plans, the devices could find a strong audience. Apple's iPad models offering 3G Internet connectivity on AT&T's network cost $629 and $829, depending on storage capacity. Apple sells a Wi-Fi-only version of the device for $499.
AT&T's 3G wireless service costs $15 a month for 250MB of data per month and $25 for 2GB of data per month.
Samsung executives said the company plans to also launch a Wi-Fi-only version of the product at a later date. This is important because tablet PC users are often looking for both 3G connectivity and Wi-Fi, Sue said.
"There's a market for both," he said. "There are some people who want Wi-Fi only and others who want 3G and still others that want both."
Samsung has also copied Apple's strategy in terms of building a content ecosystem around its products. In addition to the new smartphone and tablet, Samsung is also launching the Media Hub video store, which will offer video content optimized for Samsung devices.
Unlike iTunes, which offers music as well as video, Samsung's Media Hub only offers TV shows and movies to rent or to buy. Samsung's goal, like Apple's goal with iTunes, is to make it as easy as possible for consumers to fill their devices with content. The company announced Thursday that it's struck deals with several content providers, including NBC Universal, MTV Networks, Paramount, Universal and Warner. More partners will be announced later. Consumers can download the video over a 3G wireless network or Wi-Fi.
At launch, Samsung will offer more than 1,000 movies and TV shows in Media Hub. The TV shows will be available for download the day after they air on television. Samsung will continue to add to the library over time.
Samsung didn't provide pricing details for Media Hub, but said that it will be competitive. And any content that is bought or rented can be shared on up to five Media Hub-enabled devices.