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Since the rise of the original Galaxy S, Samsung has sat atop the Android handset market, furthering its distance over other rivals supporting the operating system over the years. The company’s dominance is particularly impressive when one considers that it is the only successful feature phone company to expand its success in the post-iPhone era.
However, with the company’s smartphone margins declining as smartphone penetration inches higher, the company is seeing reinvigorated competition from two old rival brands from its feature phone days — [company]LG[/company] and [company]Motorola[/company]. How they are taking on the Android giant represents a study in contrasting strategies. While LG has taken many pages from Samsung’s playbook, Motorola has pursued a strategy that might be called the anti-Samsung approach.
LG, of course, has long been a primary [company]Samsung[/company] competitor in both companies’ home country and around the world across a wide array of electronics products for decades. In smartphones, it has taken many of the same steps that Samsung took on its road to market dominance including innovating through hardware components, particularly displays. In the G Flex and G3, the company has introduced curved and quad-HD displays.
Lke Samsung, it has put its own skin on Android. And while the LG smartphone family isn’t nearly as broad as Samsung’s, it has continued to keep growing its family of mobile devices with the G Pad and G Watch. Indeed, the second iteration of its Android Wear efforts — the round-faced G Watch R — dramatically improved the lackluster design of the company’s original G Watch launched alongside a similar Samsung effort.
The efforts — along with a big bump in TV advertising focused on succinct messaging — have helped propel LG. According to IDC, LG’s smartphone shipments were up nearly 40 percent while in the third quarter of 2014 while Samsung’s sales dipped eight percent.
Another company that saw growing share in Q3 was Lenovo, which recently completed acquisition of Motorola Mobility, the brand that it plans to carry forward in North America. Unlike Samsung and LG, Motorola hasn’t focused on whizzy curved displays or elaborate skins; indeed, it has not only committed to a “pure Android” experience in its own phones, but seems to have persuaded its partner Verizon to tone down the level of skinning in its Droid phones.
The second generation of Motorola’s flagship — the Moto X — has competitive specs, but hasn’t led the charge in terms of them. However, the company has been making smart moves in a couple of key areas. These include adding value around the core Android experience through gestures, smarter settings and voice activation that still works in more scenarios than Siri under iOS 8 (where the iPhone must be plugged in). Motorola has also been aggressively pursuing the low-end and mid-market with the Moto E and Moto G that tap into the need for lower prices in a non-subsidized carrier landscape.
Motorola has also been seeking out new distribution through partnerships. [company]Google[/company], its short-lived parent, chose it as the vendor for the pocket-busting Nexus 6, a one-upping of Apple’s 5.5-inch iPhone 6+ (at least when it comes to screen size). And Motorola’s partnership with Verizon for its Droid lineup is an exclusive one. The carrier’s beastly Droid Turbo beefs up the Moto X with a massive 3900 mAh battery, a waterproof nano-coating that allows for open ports, quick charging, and a 21 megapixel camera with optical image stabilization.
Alas, the company’s lack of traditional strength beyond the Americas has hampered its scale and even a slimmer post-Google Motorola has had difficulty finding profitability. Lenovo should help on both of those fronts.
Neither LG nor Lenovo/Motoroa pose an imminent threat to Samsung, which still commanded a healthy majority of smartphone shipment share of 78 percent in the third quarter according to IDC, Of course, that share is even higher in Android phones and higher still in terms of Android phones that include Google’s services (versus the Android Open Source Platform used by smartphone vendors such as China’s surging Xiaomi and Amazon), But, whether it be trying to beat Samsung at its own game (like LG) or to change the rules (like Motorola), consumers are turning on to alternatives.