BARCELONA—Samsung execs today talked up the new additions to the company's tablet lineup, particularly the "phablet" Galaxy Note, but despite the overall success of the Galaxy smartphone line, Samsung admitted to having some struggles in the tablet market.
"We are not doing very well in [the] tablet market," Hankil Yoon, vice president of product strategy for Samsung Mobile, said plainly during a press roundtable here at Mobile World Congress. "But we want to do something new with that new product category."
That new category includes the 5-inch Galaxy Note. While marketed as a smartphone, it pushes the boundary between phone and tablet, with PCMag mobile analyst Sascha Segan dubbing it a "phablet." Yoon admitted that the Galaxy Note is "something close to a tablet," but said after using it for some time now, "I'd never go back to a smaller smartphone or tablet."
"Once I start using this, then I grab the Galaxy S II - it's just too small; because I'm getting old, probably," Yoon joked.
How do you get consumers to agree? "I think it's just a matter of educating customers and getting used to the new product," Yoon said.
Despite this barrier to entry, Yoon said Samsung is looking to sell at least 10 million Galaxy Notes. That likely includes the newly introduced Galaxy Note 10.1, a 10-inch Android tablet that incorporates a pressure-sensitive Wacom stylus. For more, see PCMag's hands on with the device.
In a separate interview with PCMag here at MWC, Kevin Packingham, senior vice president of product innovation for Samsung Mobile, said the Galaxy Note has been a "tremendous success" in Europe, but admitted it might take awhile to catch on in the states.
"You have to get it out there, people have to experience it," Packingham said. "It's one of those devices, if you leave it sitting out, the amount of comments you get it is remarkable."
Packingham acknowledged the pushback from critics who think that 5 inches is just too big for a smartphone. But he said the people who are most excited about the device do a lot of Web browsing and reading of text, so the bigger form factor suits them. That can be useful in business too, he said, for opening and editing documents or for those who don't want to carry a phone and a tablet.
One area where Packingham said Samsung can improve is marketing the Samsung tablet experience, or "awareness" of what's out there. If you see a Samsung Galaxy Tab just sitting on the shelf at Best Buy, you might not be aware that there's a Samsung Galaxy smartphone that could go along with it, or a Samsung TV to which you can hook it up.
One reason for any confusion might be the multiple versions of the Galaxy Tab that have been released in the last year - from the original Galaxy Tab 10.1 to the Galaxy Tab 8.9 to the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus.
Packingham said that Samsung was basically experimenting with what worked best. "2011 was the big introductory year for Samsung on the tablet side," he said. But "I think we've kind of reached a point where we understand what the market looks like, and we're now optimizing the tablet portfolio to go after the segments where we can be successful."
That includes the 10.1-inch Tab, which has "been a great size for us," he said.
One company standing in the way of Samsung tablet glory, of course, is Apple. According to data from IHS iSuppli released earlier this month, Samsung sold about 2.1 million of its Galaxy Tab tablets during the fourth quarter and 6 million during 2011. Apple, meanwhile, shipped 15.4 million iPads during the fourth quarter alone, an increase from the 11.1 million it sold in the third quarter.
So while Samsung bested Apple in the smartphone race last year, the iPad was clearly king of the tablets. When asked if Samsung tires of the comparisons between the two firms, Packingham said it's to be expected.
"I think the frustrating part for Samsung is, without question, we have better technology [than Apple] built into the device[s], if you do a feature-by-feature comparison," he said. "Especially for the value customers get, Samsung is a superior product."
That was the point Samsung was trying to make with a recent ad campaign that poked fun at Apple devotees who wait in line for days to get the newest iPhone.
"There's no doubt that Apple has a really great user experience, but that's where Samsung has made tremendous advances in the last two years," Packingham continued. "We are trying to connect with those consumers who may have historically considered an Apple product and get that chance for them to reconsider their decision [and] give Samsung another shot."