Is Apple losing its cool factor?

One of the best tech-related commercials I’ve seen is the Samsung ad that shows a young person waiting in line for the iPhone but only to reveal that he’s actually saving a spot for his parents. He and other youth are far more excited about their Samsung Galaxy III with its bigger screen, multi-tasking and 4G capabilities (which Apple now offers in the iPhone 5). When a friend tells him he’s saved him a place in line, one actor says “I’ve moved on” followed by the tag line “the next big thing is already here.”

It’s just a commercial, but the script may reflect the thinking of at least some real teens. Buzz Marketing — a research firm that specializes in figuring out what youth want — proclaimed that Apple has lost its cool factor among youth.

“Teens are telling us Apple is done,” the agency’s founder Tina Wells told Forbes.com. “Apple has done a great job of embracing Gen X and older, but I don’t think they are connecting with Millennial kids,” who she said are “all about Surface tablets/laptops and Galaxy.”

Although I haven’t seen breakdowns by age, there is some evidence that Samsung is having a big impact on Apple’s smartphone marketshare. Globally, Samsung is pulling ahead of Apple in the smartphone race, according to Reuters, which estimated that Samsung sold 71 million such devices in the 4th quarter 2012 compared to the 47.8 million iPhones that Apple reported shipping last quarter. In the United States, Apple has a 53 percent market share, according to Kantar Worldwide Comtech, with Samsung leading in Europe, Asia and other markets.

I’ve used both the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy SIII and they’re both excellent with different strengths and relatively few weaknesses. But merits of the products aside, that commercial appropriately pokes fun at Apple’s cultlike followers who are willing to stand in line and pay top dollar for a device that — as good as it may be — certainly isn’t way ahead of its competition.

Of course, both companies are moving forward with new products. Apple, as usual, is tight-lipped about what it has in the pipeline but there are rumors of a lower-cost iPhone as well as reports about iPhones with larger screens. Apple has refreshed its iPhone annually, so we’re not likely to see a new model until the fall. Samsung is reportedly working on the Galaxy S IV — the successor to its popular Galaxy III. Samsung’s new phone, according to Techcrunch, is likely due out in April and reportedly will have a 5-inch screen with a display that has more than a third more resolution than the iPhone 5.

Apple continues to lead in the tablet market with 53.8 percent market share in 2012, according to IDC. It sold 22.9 million during the last quarter of 2012, compared to 15.5 million during the same period in 2011. But its mark share slipped a little from the previous year as Android increased its share with 43.7 percent of estimated 2012 shipments.

Windows tablets were practically an asterisk in 2012 with less than 3 percent market share, but IDC expects that to grow to over 10 percent this year as PC makers roll out Windows 8 tablets. Microsoft itself has announced a pair of tablets, including the Surface, which runs Windows RT and its Surface Pro, whichwill run the full-fledged desktop version of Windows and support virtually all Windows programs on day one.

The Pro is scheduled for release on Feb. 9, and early reviews have been positive. If it does gain momentum, its success should breath new life into the Windows software market as developers scurry to create apps that support it and other Windows tablets or hybrid tablet/laptops from Lenovo, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Asus and other PC makers.

As per Apple, when it introduced the iPhone in 2007, it was a revolutionary improvement over anything on the market. And its first iPad, which came out in 2010, was a huge improvement over existing tablet PCs. But everything since then has represented an incremental improvement. The iPhone 5 is a thinner and longer iPhone 4s and the iPad mini is a smaller iPad, while the fourth generation full sized iPad is faster but not fundamentally different from its predecessor.

None of this should be surprising. It’s what happens in a mature market. I remember how amazed I was the first time I saw a microwave oven, but it’s hard to get excited about the 2013 models compared to the ones that came out in 2012. In many ways that’s a good thing because — over time — incremental improvements add up to better reliability and better value. An occasional revolution can be a good thing but constant evolution equates to steady improvement.

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