Samsung’s new flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S9, is due to be unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona later this month at an event that won’t likely pack too many surprises. We basically know what goes into each new Samsung device from a battery, display, and design standpoint, with a little mystery wiggle room leftover for whatever experimental feature the company tries to push (almost always unsuccessfully) onto consumers. Following some fresh leaks obtained by VentureBeat’s Evan Blass late last month, we even know what the device looks like. (Hint: It looks like a Galaxy phone.)
But a few rumors making the rounds at gadget blogs today, collected by Gizmodo, suggest a rather unpleasant surprise may be in store for would-be buyers of the S9: a price jump. According to Korean publication ETNews, the Galaxy S9 may cost between 925,000 and 1 million won (between $875 and $925). That’s a significant jump over the Galaxy S8’s starting price of $720.
A couple days ago, TechRadar quoted a source saying the S9 could cost as much as £789, or around $1,110, which would mark a £100 increase over last year’s S8 that went on sale in the UK for £689. Taking into account those two price quotes and leaving some room for currency exchanges and import taxes and so on, we can assume the new Galaxy S9 might retail in the US for somewhere around $800 to $850.
Now, that wouldn’t be all that surprising considering last year, Apple sold its first ever iPhone with a four-digit price tag (after taxes). But with the pricey iPhone X, consumers were getting the first Apple smartphone with a bezel-less, OLED display on top of Face ID-powered biometric authentication and an improved rear-facing dual-camera setup for photography and video. It’s not clear if the new Galaxy S9 will pack similar upgrades over last year’s S8, or features comparable to the iPhone X, to justify a price increase, even if it ends up just in the ballpark of $50 to $100 more expensive. There’s only so much more money you can charge for an incrementally better screen and a bump in battery life.
Yet, if Samsung does charge more for its S9 solely on the fact that it wants higher margins on its flagship line to compete with Apple, it would be both an unwise and an expected move. We’ve long since entered into the era of the ultra-expensive smartphone, thanks in part to Apple, but also due to industry-wide trends of selling consumers more expensive phones to make up for a saturated market. In its last quarter, Apple sold fewer iPhones than it did a year ago, but it made more money on each device, a trend that started even before the iPhone X.
Samsung may want to shift its business in a similar direction by selling as many Galaxy devices as it can at a higher average sale price per unit, and the only way to do that is to incrementally raise prices when a new model comes out. The issue, of course, is justifying that to consumers, who will need plenty of convincing that the next Galaxy smartphone really is worth more than last year’s model. For that, Samsung will need a little bit of innovation.