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Leveraging the success of its Galaxy S smartphone line, Samsung today introduced two models of Galaxy Player handhelds, expected to launch later this spring in the U.S. At first glance, the 4- and 5-inch devices appear to be Android-powered Samsung smartphones, complete with front and rear cameras, touch screens, and Adobe Flash (s adbe) support, but these don’t include a cellular radio. Instead, the new Galaxy Player line uses Wi-Fi for connectivity, just like Apple’s iPod (s aapl) touch. But why would Samsung ever attempt to take on Apple’s iPod, which holds an imposing majority share in the digital audio player market?
There are a few reasons that this move makes sense, and the first one stems from the Galaxy S smartphone lineup. By selling more than 10 million of the handsets in the second half of 2010 alone, Samsung has proven that it can build a competitive smartphone. Indeed, thanks to the Galaxy S lineup, Samsung showed the most sales growth in the final quarter of 2010 compared to its peers, boasting a 438.9 percent year-over-year boost, per IDC. Why not try to mirror that success in the media player market?
A fair criticism to the Galaxy Player is that with the rise of smartphone adoption, it may not make sense to create something without cellular capabilities. However, the lack of cellular connectivity would appeal to consumers that want everything such a device has to offer except for the inflated monthly phone bill. And one only has to look to Apple to see that the iPhone hasn’t completely cannibalized iPod sales: although sales are slowly declining, in the last quarter, Apple still moved 19.4 million iPod devices.
Apple enthusiasts may rightfully suggest that Samsung’s Galaxy Player doesn’t have a shot against the iPod touch because it will always lack Apple’s iTunes ecosystem — one of the reasons perhaps that Microsoft’s (s msft) Zune player is dying a slow painful death. That’s a fair point since the Galaxy Player runs on Android 2.2 (and will be upgradeable to Android 2.3), meaning it relies on Google’s Android Market. But the Amazon MP3 (s amzn) store can easily take the place of iTunes for music shopping. The addition of doubleTwist AirSync even allows for easy wireless media transfer and playback on Android devices.
The real secret sauce, however, may be Samsung’s own ecosystem, which it has been quietly building for the Galaxy line. The Music Hub supports subscription music in some countries, and while Samsung’s Media Hub doesn’t have the widest variety of choices yet, it is at least an option for movie and television content. And iBooks has nothing on Samsung’s Reader Hub, which truly is a one-stop destination for e-books, newspapers and magazines.
Instead of ceding the market for pocketable, connected devices with mobile browsing and application capabilities to Apple, Samsung’s clearly wants a fight, and it’s well-positioned to start one. Up to now, few could compete with the iPod touch. Thanks to a well designed smartphone and the Android platform, Samsung may be the first.