Apple is really mad at Samsung and BlackBerry now

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

If you own an Apple (AAPL -0.27%) iPhone, you should have received an email from the company over the weekend, alerting you to a new page on the Apple site that explains why the iPhone 5 is the best.

The tag line: "There's iPhone. And then there's everything else." This might be the first time since 2001, when it blew everybody away with the first iPod, that Apple has stooped to defend its position as the best possible thing since sliced bread.

The fact is, two of its rivals -- Samsung (SSNLF 0.00%) and BlackBerry (BBRY +0.07%) -- are getting a whole lot of attention from the media. Not fawning attention or universal acclaim. Just respectful attention, as worthy alternatives with unique qualities of their own.

It is probably not a coincidence that the new Apple page popped up two days after Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S4.

Not averse to a bit of hyperbole of its own, Samsung's website declares that its Galaxy S4 is nothing less than a "real life companion" that will "make your life richer, simpler, and more fun."

Apparently, Samsung's latest smartphone, which hits the stores next month, really does all kinds of wonderfully wacky things. It's got an "air gesture" feature that lets you click on a Web link just by pointing a finger at it. You can make two video calls at once, and use two apps at the same time. It can tell you what you might want to watch on TV, and control it remotely. It automatically adjusts volume and display to suit your surroundings. It can even monitor your heart rate while you're working out.

Plus, it's got wireless charging. Don't bother checking out the Galaxy S4 website. You won't be able to escape the marketing push for Samsung's latest device. The South Korean electronics giant spent $401 million on marketing the previous version of the device in 2012, compared to Apple's $333 million budget, according to figures reported by Phandroid.

In the end, Samsung might do better with a smaller but smarter marketing plan. Last week's unveiling of the new device, at an over-the-top Broadway show-style extravaganza at Radio City Music Hall, turned off many tech journalists. They want specs, not showbiz.

But as the battle for market share at the top heats up, Apple may be making marketing missteps, too. That at least is the view of Jean-Louis Gassée, a business media executive, blogger, and, not incidentally, the guy who launched Apple France in 1981.

In part, he is disdainful of Apple's overuse of what he terms "pathetic superlatives" in constantly describing itself and its products as "incredible" and "great." But he's really appalled at an Apple marketing executive's widely-reported, and erroneous, suggestion that the Samsung Galaxy S4 would ship with a year-old version of Android. The diss backfired, as the correction got all the attention.

The way for Apple to end all this bad chatter, of course, is to release something new that is absolutely more fabulous than anything else.

No pressure. How's that iWatch project going? For now, it can only endure the nibbling from rivals, which by no means stops with Samsung. The real guerrilla warfare is being staged from below, by the rivals for third place behind Apple and the Samsung Galaxy, which is the best-selling phone that uses Google's (GOOG +0.44%) Android operating system.

In the latest salvo, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins had the nerve to imply that the Apple iPhone is yesterday's news.

In an interview with an Australian business publication that was widely picked up in the U.S., Heins pointed out that the Apple device first came out in 2007. As he knows only too well, Heins said, "the rate of innovation is so high in our business that if you don't innovate at that speed you can be replaced pretty quickly." He cited the new BlackBerry B10's multi-tasking feature as a point of differentiation from the iPhone.

Heins also hinted that he is "pleasantly surprised" by the number of people who are abandoning other phone brands for the new BlackBerry. (We may find out how pleasantly surprised he is on March 28, when his company reports its results.)

At least for now, yet another contender, Nokia (NOK +1.49%), seems to have been lost in the shuffle of technology coverage in the U.S. But keep in mind that the one-time leader is alive and kicking in the wider world of developing countries.

An interesting perspective is offered in a recent review of two new Nokia Lumia models in an Indian publication called Think Digit. It concludes that the Nokia 520 might be a good choice for a consumer buying a first smartphone, or for someone who's tired of the sluggish response of a budget-priced Android phone.

It's not a ringing endorsement of Nokia. It just clarifies the fact that most of the world has other priorities (Money MSN).