Consumer Technology

Is Samsung Closing the Image Gap With Apple?

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An Apple addict from the very first iPhone to three models later, Paris based Masayoshi Noro bought his first Samsung mobile device – a Galaxy Note 2 – in December.

Now the 33-year-old supply chain manager says he's pretty sure he's not switching back.

"Being disappointed by the last two iPhones, I switched to Samsung and I discovered a whole new way to use my smartphone -- no limitations and a great scope of new possibilities for half the price," Noro told CNBC. "In like 10 days I used it as if I had it for many years."

Noro says he's considering selling his iPad and buying a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet to create a Samsung ecosystem.

Noro is one of millions of smartphone users around the world who are now viewing Samsung's mobile devices in a new light and opting for them over Apple's much sought-after premium products.

Competitive pricing and growing distribution channels, added to innovative features and sleek designs have made Samsung's mobile devices a popular choice among the masses, and analysts say the South Korean conglomerate's deep market penetration is boosting its brand image, along with smartphone sales.

The numbers don't lie.

A recent report by research firm Strategy Analytics showed that Samsung sold a whopping 213 million smartphones in 2012, taking a 30 percent share of the global smartphone market, while Apple held 19 percent. Samsung overtook Apple as the world's top smartphone maker in the third quarter of 2011 amid a highly competitive market and has since continued to widen its lead.

(Read more: Samsung Follows Apple Results With Record Profit)

Changing Brand Image

Jong-bin Lee, advertising group Cheil Worldwide's director of the team in charge of Samsung Electronics' global ad campaigns, says Samsung has been able to transform its image from a "value for money" brand to an innovative leader by changing its marketing strategy to focus on meeting the needs of all consumers.

And it was not easy given that Apple was and continues to be perceived as the cutting edge choice for people who are interested in sleek well designed devices that have excellent user experience, said analysts.

"When I started in 1996, Samsung was struggling to get through the market in terms of brand awareness and consumer confidence," Lee said of his 12 years of working on Samsung advertising.

He added that from being obsessed with finding ways of showing the difference in features between their phones and that of their competitors, it is now pursuing a bigger agenda. Samsung is trying to build a contrast between their biggest competitor Apple as a "self-centered brand" versus them, a brand that "cares for everybody."

For example, a recent ad by Cheil for the Samsung Galaxy S3 shows images of working professionals, and married couples to families with kids, trying to attract a broader audience with slogans like "designed for humans, inspired by nature."

Given that Samsung has a range of almost 30 smartphones, varying from the low to the high-end, compared to a handful of Apple mobile devices, Mykola Golovko, senior industry analyst at Euromonitor says it's no surprise that more people are choosing a Samsung, because of its sheer size.

"Broader appeal is really what's driving their sales especially now as smartphone growth sort of moves on from developed markets and more to emerging markets," Golovko said. "Samsung has a lot of specific country, region models and variances of these models, that's really what's driving their overall volume growth."

Andrew Milroy, vice president at consultancy ICT Practice, Asia Pacific, meanwhile, says that by growing market share amid the younger "price sensitive" segment of the market, Samsung has been able to increase its brand appeal.

"Obviously if you're hitting a young audience and you get a critical mass of young folks, you've got an opportunity to focus on the hip factor, potentially make Apple devices seem kind of frumpy and unfashionable over time," Milroy said.

(Read more: Apple Delivers a Big Earnings Miss; Outlook Disappoints)

A visitor tries out the new Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone at the Samsung stand at the IFA 2012 consumer electronics trade fair on August 30, 2012 in Berlin, Germany.
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Physical Appeal

Samsung's deep pockets for research and development as a manufacturer of smartphone components, including those for Apple, has also allowed them to focus more on their hardware to make their products more appealing, according to analysts.

"It hardware's really evolved… they are able to deliver a high quality polished product" Golovko of Euromonitor said.

Toronto-based public relations professional Aliya Jiwan-Thawer, for example, says she was really impressed with the look of her first Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone when she received it from her husband, an iPhone user, in August.

"As a woman, we can't deny the fact that looks count for our phones as well," Jiwan-Thawar, 31 said. "It was an attractive phone… It looked so sleek, and it was beautiful and I remember saying to my husband, it looks pretty big don't you think? But now, I like the size, it makes it easier to type."

Samsung's tactic of making bigger screens for its smartphone devices, particularly the Galaxy Note series, has been a big part of its success in differentiating the brand from other market players, according to Melissa Chau, senior research manager, client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific, who says the big screens have become "trendy."

"Most of the android handsets all kind of look the same, but this one's like the big one, which has actually been kind of quite a popular handset in a lot of the more mature markets in Asia like Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea for example," Chau said.

With Apple not making any significant changes to the look and feel of the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 in its past two releases, consumers may also be looking to try something new, Chau said.

"Before, the gap between iPhone and other brands was so big that it was the clear choice to buy an iPhone. But now it's like I don't have to only choose this one and in fact with Samsung I might get something that I'm not able to find, which is a larger screen," Chau said.

(Read more: Apple or Samsung: Who's Cooler Now?)

Galavanizing the Android Market

The growing popularity of Google's android operating system worldwide has also helped Samsung emerge as the flagship brand amid other market players, according to analysts.

Euromonitor predicts that smartphones run on an Android operating system will account for more than 60 percent of global volume sales in 2013, from 57.6 percent in 2012. That compares to just under 17 percent of global volume sales for Apple's iOS system, the second biggest competitor, in 2013.

"There's not that many differences between a lot of android phones," Chau said. "You're going to choose the one you're most familiar with and Samsung has made itself the familiar brand by plastering it's marketing everywhere."

Peter Mack, executive director of marketing for Greater China at WPP's branding and identity consultancy Landor, added that on the whole, you can get the features of a Samsung Galaxy in other phones, but "the reason why people are plunking down money for a Samsung as opposed to a Huawei is because it's a Samsung – in that sense it's [brand is] hugely important."

Meanwhile for Apple, analysts predict that it's inevitable that the tech giant's stupendous growth in the smartphone market over the past few years will slow in 2013 as competitors like Samsung introduce alternatives to its premium products.

But Milroy of ICT says "Apple loyalists will remain Apple loyalists. I don't think it's so much Apple fatigue, it's just there's always room for different taste and Samsung's taken advantage of that."

- By's Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani; Follow her on Twitter @RajeshniNaidu