How Fast Things Change: Samsung Galaxy S III

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The new Samsung Galaxy S III is a better smartphone than the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone. Until a few days ago, the iPhone had no single worthy rival. Could that really change in less than a week? It appears so, although the process is absurd and arbitrary.

When Samsung launched the Galaxy S III, the press and some consumer electronics experts said it was a smartphone without rival. The phone runs the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android OS, and it has voice command like iPhone’s Siri. The Galaxy can track eye movement so that the screen does not dim while in active use.

The next stage in the perception that the Galaxy is superior to the iPhone will be early sales. Apple has, for years, given early product sales counts. How many million iPhones were sold in the first day, three days, the first week? The press and investors are always thunderstruck by these figures. Apple’s stock rises. Its place as the world leader in smartphones, tablets and alternative PCs could last for years, or maybe decades.

The death of Steve Jobs set off concerns that, without him, Apple could not go forward with the same power as it had in the past. New versions of the iPhone and iPad turned many of those concerns aside. Now that Samsung has had a big product launch, the belief that Jobs was the only hope of Apple’s ongoing dominance has returned. In just a few days, the perception of Apple has gone back to what it was the day he died. That change makes no sense. The Galaxy S III is days old and has no sales track record yet.

A great deal was made when Samsung passed Nokia (NYSE: NOK) as the world’s largest handset maker. Less discussed was the fact that many Samsung products are cheap cellphones. It has bested Apple in the sales of smartphones in some countries, new data show. But Apple may reverse that when it releases the iPhone 5 or the next version of the iPad. Suddenly, Samsung will be described in some quarters as an also-ran. The champion’s trophy will return to Apple, and may go back and forth between the two companies for some time.

The iPhone was the superior smartphone until this week. Maybe in a month or so, it will be again.

Douglas A. McIntyre