Is that a Samsung Galaxy S3? BlackBerry needs to make sure they don't pull a HTC

The need for differentiation in full touchscreens
By Kevin Michaluk on 10 Aug 2012 01:55 pm EDT

The Mobile Nations World Tour continues...

People keep thinking my HTC One X (right) is a Galaxy S3 

The 2012 Olympic Games are coming to an end this weekend. Every spare moment I've had over the past two weeks I've turned on the tv to watch the awe-inspiring performances of some of the world's most amazing athletes. At the same time, I've also sat in front of the television in awe of Samsung. Without exception, every single time I have tuned into London 2012 action, I have also seen a commercial for the Samsung Galaxy S III (S3). I don't know what Samsung's marketing budget was for these games, but I'm guessing it was astronomical.

Whatever Samsung had to spend though, it seems to be working in terms of building recognition among "regular people" for their new Galaxy S3 phone. So much so in fact, that since the Olympics have started that people are even recognizing non-Galaxy S3 devices as the Galaxy S3. The prime example? My HTC One X has a serious case of mistaken identity for the S3.

Prior to the Olympics, when I used in my One X in public I'd often get asked by people, What kind of phone is that?

Since the Olympics have started, now I get asked things like How do you like your S3? or The screen on that Galaxy S3 looks nice! at which point I have to break the news that it isn't a Galaxy S3 but is actually a HTC One X. This isn't a one off occurence. This scenario has played out for me over a dozen times now since the Olympics began. It's to the point where I actually feel kind of bad for HTC.

As usual, I always relate things back to BlackBerry and this experience brought a couple of marketing 101 observations to mind that I thought were worth noting. The first, of course, is that advertising works. No big surprise. If you spend enough $$$ advertising a product, people can't help but notice. Hopefully BlackBerry's new Chief Marketing Officer will be able to stretch their BlackBerry 10 marketing budget as far as they can.

The second, and more pertinent observation for the purpose of this post, is the need for manufacturers to differentiate and create a unique identity for their mobile devices (and gadgets in general). Those of us who follow mobile and tech stuff regularly will look at the photo above and see two clearly different phones - the Galaxy S3 on the left and HTC One X on the right. But to the average consumer who watches a Galaxy S3 commercial and then sees either of these phones for the first time in real life (without the side by side comparison) could easily assume they are that device. In this case they're both BIG touchscreen phones with rounded corners and white casings. Those are the memorable at-a-glance details that will be remembered from a commercial. There are lot of differences when you look closely, but at a glance... those are the distinguishing features that jump out at you.

Over the years, BlackBerry has always enjoyed a position of having a truly iconic design in mobile. When it comes to mobile devices with a full physical keyboard, they own it. Most people who see a phone with a full keyboard just assume it's a BlackBerry, even if it's not.

In the realm of full touchscreen devices, BlackBerry doesn't enjoy that same position. For a while there it felt like Apple owned full touchscreen recognition the way BlackBerry did keyboards - that every full touchscreen phone with rounded corners was considered by the average consumer to be an iPhone. I think since the iPhone 4 / 4S design hit the market though, that Apple has lost that all-encompassing recognition a bit. The look of the iPhone 4 / 4S is so distinct that it opened up space for other competitors to really differentiate from it. This isn't a bad thing for Apple - everybody recognizes an iPhone. I just mean that people don't mistake non-iPhone devices as iPhones like they used to prior to the iPhone 4 design.

Samsung is now beginning to prove that by spending enough money they can hopefully own all the recognition in the supersized full touchscreen segment. If you see a person on the other side of the room with a big clean-looking phone in hand that's not an iPhone, they want you to think it's an S3. Based on my experiences of the past couple weeks, I'd argue they are on there way to getting there.

We have yet to see what the first BlackBerry 10 phone will look like, but I really hope that it has a strong and unique identity when it launches. Especially the full touchscreen version, where RIM will need it to uniquely stand out from the crowd. The last thing I'd want to see them do is pull an HTC here, and put out a device with a weak identity such that it's easy for it to be mistaken for a competitor (who spends more money on advertising). A couple of pre-release designs have shown up over the past year, and we do have the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha to look at too, but I'll reserve comment until we see an official design.

With the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, RIM arguably went to market with a design that could have had a stronger design ID. BlackBerry wanted to put to display operating system's user interface as a key design element, so put the hardware in the background to keep the attention on the glass. It was an understated hardware design, which I personally liked, but it didn't have a unique enough ID. When Amazon subsequently released the Kindle Fire, their design was so similar that both tablets looked the same to the average person. From across the room there's little chance of telling them apart. And because the PlayBook's design ID was so basic, you almost can't even blame Amazon for copying RIM on it.

The bottom line 

I really hope BlackBerry comes to market with a BlackBerry 10 phone design that is uniquely BlackBerry and still stands out from the competition, regardless of the ad spend by their competitors. We have to wait another ~ five months to get our hands on a BlackBerry 10 phone. When I finally get my hands on one, the *LAST* thing I want to happen is to have somebody walk up to me and ask if it's a phone by another manufacturer. I'd lose my sh!t.

Reader comments

Is that a Samsung Galaxy S3? BlackBerry needs to make sure they don't pull a HTC


Lmao! Good catch :)

Definitely true about the need for a unique design identity though, Kevin. Could write lots on this, but definitely agree in general with the article.

My own opinion would be for RIM's design team to make use of the design legacy of the Torch 9860 in some way, carrying-over some of the principles used on the metal back, along with a bit of Playbook-esque rubber-grip on key sections (for comfort ....and grip).

These combined with a a high-quality 720p screen (4.3" to 4.6"), a fresh design for the front (like the BlackBerry London concept) that matches the metal materials of the rear, would be a brilliant, uniquely-BlackBerry consumer/business friendly design.

Bring on BB10 next year! Decided already to get the all-touch L-Series version for myself, and the keyboard version for business :)

This is a good example of why the Playbook is dead. I have a Playbook. Last year we were promised lots of Android apps, well they are still not here and will never be here. The new Playbook is $500. Who is going to pay that money for a dead tablet. Do not be fool like me. RIM will not be around by next year. I have been waiting for Skype for 1 year and it will never come the the Playbook, No Netflix, No Hulu. Take your money and get a Galaxy Tab.
Playbook, the one and only

You were never promised the apps you mentioned. You may have been led to believe that through various imagary and misinformation from others but RIM invariably never promised you such things at any given point.

I just love this guy's or gal's signature! Classic!

PlayBook sucks! It's dead, but it's "the one and only!" :)

You've got your facts screwed. The 4G PlayBook will sell for less with carrier discounts. A new Galaxy SIII is over $600 but with carrier discounts, it's under $200. The 4G iPad 3 sells for over $700.

Skype and others never came because RIM didn't have a FFC (front facing camera) on BB7 devices anyway. It will likely come with BB10 devices.

There are other things that makes the PlayBook rock. It's a great gaming machine, it's got the most amazingly powerful web browser (in many ways, better than my desktop browser -- IE9 or Firefox 13), it does flash and awesome support for HTML5 (see It's also way cheaper than the competition!

Haha Kevin I see what you mean! I hate when people ask if I had an iphone with my samsung lol. Rim is gonna need a unique design and a lot of advertising for that to happen. But it's what's on the inside that counts. Right? ;)

Hard to differentiate these slabs and still look good, though. I hope they put a lot of thought into it. Hate to have people say, "That's a BlackBerry...I can tell cause it's ugly."
That would be a big, "aaaaaarrrrrrrrrgggghhhhhh!"
Not that I expect that.
Quite the opposite.
Just sayin'...:)

Been using an SGS3 as my alternate phone since launch day. Wow! What an awesome phone! This is the type of "Halo device" that I hope RIM is in the process of producing. Still, it ain't perfect. Android is still kinda creaky and programs crash way more than they do on my 9900. I still prefer BB OS 7 for banging out texts and e-mail. And of course, the SGS3 is missing that sublime keyboard, which I feel is the best in mobile.
Samsung and RIM have been talking about "something". I sincerely hope that Samsung may make a high end device for RIM (similar to the Google Nexus). I think it would be a hit. Samsung definitely can design some cool phones.

Cheap plastic designed to shatter when dropped. Designed with purpose so carriers can sell you expensive replacement insurance plans.

Awesome phone in terms of specs but not in terms of build quality. Build quality is mediocre but large AMOLED HD screen make the phone appear stunning... and it does!

I want the same for BB10, but I also want a solidly build device that is designed for normal day-to-day use. I won't freak out if my daughter drops it.

Samsung is also doing a great job of "owning" Android. I wonder how long it will be before the "rabble" starts calling Android "Samsung OS". No, I don't think that will really happen, but there's another reason why many think "large-screen touchscreen phone" = Samsung Galaxy SIII... because it is the same OS. Hopefully, BB10 devices will look different on screen, too. I'm more concerned that people will mistake BB10 for Windows Phone, with the big blocky widget-y tiles... not that I want BB10 to NOT have those tiles, just that the Metro UI is going to get a lot of coverage with the impending Windows 8 release, so keeping BB10 out of that mire would be nice.

"The first, of course, is that advertising works. No big surprise. If you spend enough $$$ advertising a product, people can't help but notice. Hopefully BlackBerry's new Chief Marketing Officer will be able to stretch their BlackBerry 10 marketing budget as far as they can."

This is an issue, I don't know the ratios for RIM but Samsung outspends HTC on sales incentives and marketing by 6:1 and Apple outspends them 4:1 and we know what sort of state HTC is in.

A decent OS gets people to come back the second time around, the first time around you need decent marketing and sale incentives (to get carrier staff to push the handsets).

Completely agree, the bb10 device will need to be an icon by itself and completely differentiated from the pack.

oh and Kevin, is doen't Canadian for doesn't?

Been thinking about picking up the new Evo 4g LTE on sprint for the hell of it. Still got a great 9930 here so if I hate it I'll turn around and ditch it. My Bold handles everything it does very well. Just starting to think I want more of a play device with a killer camera.
Someone else in my family wanted my Bold. Don't think I can part with it. PlayBook for me is still a massive go and I see my self switching back and fourth between the 2 for the best each has to offer.
I'm not giving up on you RIM, just something to pass the time with before BB10 is here.
* BlackBerry by choice *

I really think the BlackBerry logo needs to be more prominant, like the Apple is. Make those little berry bubbles jump out at people as I hold it to my ear, sit with it in my lap.
The chrome logo now isn't big enough and doesn't jump out at people.

Sure the 9900's 'Bold' is very discernable when being held to ones ear, but when people hold the iPhone, people see the Apple on the back jump out at them, screaming APPLE.
Even with a skin, the iPhone is noticable because in most skins, the Apple isn't blocked from sight

I know a Note when I see it just because the things so bloody big, it screams hey look at me, I'm size of the Motorola 8000, your arm will be like Arni in no time!!!

I almost feel that full touch units only have so much form factor to play with.

well to be honest this is the first time ive seen the htc one x and it really does look like the s3. before reading the article i wanted to see if i could differenciate it and the only noticible difference was the samsung logo at the top on the left picture. They are very alike at a quick glance undersatndable why they are getting seen as the same.

RIM really needs to do a proper design for the full touch device all they have had in the past that made it really look like a BlackBerry for their touches like storm/torch was the bb key and a fairly smaller design.

I really cant wait to see what a porper bb10 looks like sure the leaks of random pics and dev alpha are nice but its gotta really stand out above the rest and be unique indeed.

I don't think RIM will have the same design as its competitor. RIM always talks about being unique and very difference from others smartphone. Remember, RIM is the creator of the smartphone.

It is true RIM didn't creat the smart phone, its its a similar or even better example of the senario with apple and tablet. I hate that people say Apple created the tablet, but there are the first to make it popular, Just like RIM and the smartphone. RIM need to take back there market.

RIM is credited with being one of the innovators of the smartphone with Nokia and Ericsson. Indeed RIM was the first to support live pushed emails on a mobile phone. Before BlackBerry, "smartphones" were just phones with PIM apps.

Samsung is an official partner with the Olympics. HTC is not. This gives Samsung a huge advantage on ad placement. The Economist did an article on the cost benefit ratio of being an official Olympic partner, and it was fairly mixed. It costs a fortune to tie yourself to the Olympics as they only allow one sponsor from a specific industry Sector.

Oooooor, screw that, make the phone as identical as S3 as possible and catch the wave of their marketing. All you have to do at the end is say ...but ours is better. :D
Rocking my two berries:
Torch 9810 OS and Playbook OS
Twitter: @mr_theend

I am still wondering what the constrains are that will make RIM drop the track pad.
It is more than a handy tool for us Action Men and a powerful differentiator. A win win.
So why will they lose it?

We'll if blackberry (see what i did there :) just slaps that big silver symbol of theres all over the phone we wont have a problem telling the difference :)

This is yet another good reason that they need to keep the iconic trackpad! I love my 9860, but I'd still get frustrated without the trackpad and I will be an upgrade holdout without one.

Oh I can see the difference clearly. First the capacitive buttons are different, there's one on the Galaxy S3 and three on the HTC One X. Then there's the width on the Galaxy S3. It's wider on the side than the HTC One X.

..I would honestly like to see the touch version look something like my Torch date I think it's the sexiest, and classiest looking touch device out there with the curves and the smokey chrome wrap around...and nice shiny BB logo...all the other devices seem like slabs by comparison...and not to mention the 9860 fits so well in the hand... .02

BlackBerry Torch 9860 BBOS 7.1
BlackBerry PlayBook O/S 2.xx.xxxx

RIM would need their own iconic colour like a rich navy blue that can be spotted from afar. Black is normal and white is Apple.

Is a new BB logo needed? Or is current one easily recognized? What do you guys think?

I like the idea of a black version followed by a luxurious navy-blue version (for differentiation), then followed-up later by a white version. Would definitely sit well in the market, AND provide a brand advantage on shelves...

On the BB logo though... its literally perfect. We need it to remain prominent, but RIM should 110% keep it as is. (One of the few areas not being re-designed from the ground up in the shift from BBOS to BB10).

I think this whole train of thought is senseless. Make it work and people will buy it. I doubt the average BB user gives the slightest thought to what it 'looks like', I sure don't.
I suppose that customer is the one who will buy every new model of phone though, and I think they all own some form of Android by now.
For example, I recently learned Quickbooks made an Android/iPhone app and looked into getting a Droid, but then learned the app was US only, so BB it is!

BlackBerry will be black and will feature a logo on top. But interesting point Due to the demand and the nature of developing phones they will all more or less look the same simply because to meet the demand of the users.

Even if it looked like a Samsung G3 or a HTC One. I don't care if it looks like other phones. It'll have the BlackBerry name on top and that is all I need :)

With full touchscreen phones, better be concerned about getting sued by Apple.

As for a distinguishing feature, how about having the BB logo light up on the back. Oh wait, Apple will sue for that too!

meh, they don't look alike. similar design but you can tell them apart. In any case, i must admit, that the S3 is a sleek device, even the S2 is pretty nice.

Lets hope RIM and the launch of BB10 can keep up with the competition!

I don't mean to be weird - but to me all touchscreen only devices look almost exactly the same. I mean really, how "different" can a 3-5inch rectangular piece of technology look after "innovation" for 3-5years?

A Blackberry Lover & User of a Playbook & Torch9800!!

I'm interested in the forthcoming Note 2. My GF has the International Note - the form factor is truly unique. I want to see RIM go this large myself.

Let me just say that I'm a middle-aged guy surrounded by guys up to ten years younger than I am.I think that RIM has the opportunity to touch all different walks of lives with their smartphones.I defend Blackberry strongly in my workplace and I've witnessed the migration to Samsung and iPhone in droves.As a person who sells accessories for the phones in Barbados, Blackberry is still #1! However, the general consensus is that you can do much cooler stuff on android with better apps.I recommended some time ago about forgetting Skype and promoting let's say..."BBVV(Blackberry Voice and Video)" the same applies to Netflix! Bring an in-house app or a less popular app that provides the same experience and make it popular in-house first.We have the subscribers to make it popular!!!In terms of hardware I suggest something simple yet not brick-like,ergonomic in design to make you feel the device is an extension of your hand.Absolutely "NO" physical buttons on the screen and let's change our LED flash notification into the blackberry logo that lights up beneath the screen as a constant reminder that Blackberry is alive and well! I have a few ideas I believe will work for maketing as well.Kevin if you hear me I would like to share some stuff to the people that matter most......RIM!

This only proves the value of marketing. Yes, Samsung spent a fortune being an official Olympic sponsor, but look how many people are familiar with the Galaxy SIII and Samsung? It works! RIM just has to do the same for BB10! Okay, there is no Olympics, but RIM must advertise before Christmas and for the following 2 months. People need to know that the RIMPIRE is striking back with an vengeance!

I absolutely disagree with the premise of this article. It is a built in excuse for BB10's failure. BB10 ultimate success will come down to two factors. A great OS and the capital to invest in it. If the OS is released with bugs or lame developer support it is dead. No amount of marketing will change that. If RIM lacks the capital to launch a high quality device (think Palm) or cant continue to invest it its own platform (again think Palm) then its dead. The Galaxy S2 didnt have huge marketing and it was a smashing success. Samsung is now at a stage where RIM can only hope to get to.

RIM, put all your money into the device and the OS. If you build it, people will come.

I was walking around on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last week taking pictures with my PlayBook. A family of tourists nearby saw me and one said, "Is that the iPad?" and another one said "Yes." I said, "BlackBerry PlayBook" and moved on. Maybe I should have stopped to give them more of a demo, but I didn't have time.