Samsung, the biggest rival to Apple in the smartphone business and which is involved in a number of bitter courtroom battles with the US company, has abruptly postponed its scheduled launch of a new top-end phone next Tuesday.
The apparent motive was not to be seen to intrude on the reactions around the death of Apple’s co-founder and former chief executive Steve Jobs, whose death was announced late on Wednesday at his California home.
The South Korean company, which said on Friday morning that it expects smartphones to be the main profit engine of its business, had been expected to launch its new Nexus Prime phone, running the latest version of Google’s Android software – numbered 4.0, and dubbed “Ice Cream Sandwich” – on Tuesday at the CTIA trade show.
But in a curt statement on Friday afternoon, it said: “Samsung and Google decided to postpone the new product announcement at CTIA Fall. We agree that it is just not the right time to announce a new product. New date and venue will be shortly announced.”
The company would not elucidate, though it is understood that the reason is not connected to any hardware or software problems around the phone.
That implies that the decision was taken because it would be seen as too close to the death of Jobs. No new date has been given by Samsung for the announcement. No date has been given either by Jobs’s family for his funeral.
Samsung and Apple are battling in a number of court cases around the world, with Apple claiming that Samsung’s products copy significant elements of the appearance of its iPhone and iPad devices, and that it infringes a number of patents. Samsung has hit back by claiming that Apple is infringing a number of its patents, including some on mobile devices: it has threatened to prevent sales of Apple’s iPhone 4S, announced only on Tuesday, in France and Italy.
Last year Jobs tried unsuccessfully to intercede in the dispute before it escalated into a full-scale court battle. The first shots in the legal battle were filed in April 201.
Samsung, the largest electronics company in the world, announced on Friday morning that it expects to rack up record profits from handset sales. Analysts think that it could have passed Apple in the July-September period for the total number of smartphone handsets shipped around the world.
However its other divisions are under pressure amidst squeezed consumer spending. The South Korean firm estimated its quarterly operating profit at 4.2 trillion won (£2.3bn) versus a consensus forecast of 3.4 trillion (£1.8bn) won by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. That would be down 14%, from a year ago but up 12% from the preceding quarter.
Samsung sold 19m smartphones in the second quarter, and analysts expect shipments to have risen to more than 28m units in the third quarter, helping it towards its target for the year of 60m units. Samsung sold only about 1m fewer smartphones than Apple in the second quarter.
It plans to release its first smartphone based on the latest version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system this month, Windows Phone “Mango”, while a 5.3-inch screen Galaxy Note, a hybrid of a smartphone and a tablet, is set to go on sale later this year.
Samsung leads a pack of companies selling phones on Google’s Android operating system.
“The Galaxy S II probably played a key role in boosting the company’s earnings and it will continue to do so pretty much unchallenged, until Apple unveils a better new version of iPhone,” said Kyung Woo-hyun, a fund manager at Daishin Asset Management.
Samsung, which worked out how to make black and white TVs in the 1970s by tearing apart Japanese models, has become a top global brand over the past decade.
It boasts a market value of £76bn, much bigger than the combined value of rivals such as Sony, Nokia , Research In Motion, Toshiba and Panasonic. Samsung’s shares have fallen 5% over the past three months versus a 12% drop in Apple’s shares.
• Sony is said to be in talks to buy Ericsson out of its share in their joint venture in the mobile phone business, Sony Ericsson. The companies must decide this month whether to renew their 10-year-old pact that created the company. The deal could be worth up to $1.3bn, depending on what arrangement they come to over the use of Ericsson’s telecoms patents.
Yoshiharu Izumi, an analyst at J P Morgan in Tokyo, said the deal could be worth upwards of $1.3bn, depending on what agreement the two reach about the continuing use of Ericsson’s telecoms patents.
“Up to now Sony’s products and network services have all been separate. Unifying them would be positive,” Izumi said.
“If they can leverage their games and other network services I think they can lift their share,” he added.
Should any buyout go ahead, Sony will need to take steps to protect itself from legal challenges to its patents. Thus far the joint venture has been protected from the kind of court room challenges seen by rivals because Ericsson, the world’s largest mobile telecom gear maker, holds one of the largest patent portfolios in the industry.
“Sony will definitely want to bolster its portfolio in such a deal so it can defend itself in the most litigious segment of the technology industry,” said intellectual property expert Florian Mueller.