Smartphone Makers Race to Beat Market Saturation

Korean smartphone makers are unveiling key models early this year in a bid to get the upper hand amid concerns over market saturation.

Pantech on Monday unveiled the Vega No. 6 Full HD LTE phone, its leading model this year, and LG and Samsung plan to roll out key models in March.

Until last year, the three smartphone makers waited to unveil their latest models until May, but fears that the smartphone market both in Korea and abroad is close to saturation point have prompted them to bring the date forward.

Pantech's Vega No. 6 Full HD has some features that set it apart from its predecessors. Industry sources say the three core ingredients that determine a smartphone's performance -- hardware, ease of use and functions -- have all evolved. It features a full HD screen that supposedly offers twice the clarity of existing Korean-made rivals, and its 5.9-inch size is the biggest among phones available so far.

Pantech also equipped the gadget with a touch pad on the back of the device to improve ease of use. "The screen is large, but we made it possible to operate the phone with only one hand," said Pantech vice president Lee Joon-woo. An incoming call can be answered simply by operating the touch pad on the back of the phone. The camera is capable of taking HD-quality video.

Models show Pantech’s new Vega full HD LTE phone at company headquarters in Sangam-dong, Seoul on Monday. /Newsis Models show Pantech’s new Vega full HD LTE phone at company headquarters in Sangam-dong, Seoul on Monday. /Newsis

Samsung plans to unveil the latest version of the Galaxy S series in March. IT specialist blog Pocketnow reported citing industry sources that the phone will feature a full HD screen.

The smartphone will apparently come with an 8-core processor that is more than twice as fast as previous models.

LG also plans to unveil its newest Optimus G Pro in March. It will have a 5.5-inch display. LG plans to capitalize on the growing success of its smartphones in Korea and abroad, as demonstrated by the sale of more than 1 million LTE phones in Japan.

Apple, too, is speeding up the process of rolling out a new phone. IT news service CNET reported that Apple will unveil a new model in the first half of this year in 4-inch and 4.8-inch screen versions. In 2011 and 2012, Apple unveiled new iPhones between September and November.

Overseas, where Korean smartphone makers have been increasing their presence, concerns over market saturation are growing. Global market researcher Strategy Analytics recently said the smartphone markets in the U.S. and Western Europe are already showing signs of saturation. The Korean smartphone market also grew 15 percent last year to 19 million units, but growth this year is forecast to stagnate.

"Due to signs of stagnation in the smartphone market, we should see increasing competition with companies racing to roll out new products first," said So Hyun-chul, an analyst at Shinhan Investment.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jan. 29, 2013 13:31 KST