Samsung fights dirty with misleading claims against HTC – who may have replied in kind

Embarrassed Samsung officials were forced to apologize to rival HTC for a sneaky PR campaign

Embarrassed Samsung officials were forced to apologize to rival HTC for a sneaky PR campaign that involved paying off Taiwanese students to write negative reviews of the latter company's products. In related news, I'm looking for a Korean and Mandarin translation of the word "astroturf."

Samsung is, as everyone already knows, the top hardware maker in the Android market, and is beginning to breathe down Apple's neck as it pursues the top spot overall in the mobile device sector. The South Korean giant now accounts for 20% of global smartphone subscribers, according to the most recent comScore figures available -- more than double the numbers of Taiwan-based rival HTC.

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ITWire reports that Samsung has admitted its use of clandestine payments to supposedly unbiased user reviewers and apologized for the recent "unfortunate incident."

The question that sprang to my mind, when this story broke, was "oh, for heaven's sake -- why, Samsung, why?" If you're running away with the Android market -- to the point where pundits are openly questioning whether you might not actually be more powerful than the company that makes the software -- why run the risk of a major PR misfire just to kick your rival when they're already pretty much down?

Admittedly, this is overstating Samsung's domination and HTC's supination a bit -- the latter company's One looks really impressive, despite embarrassing delays in getting it to market, and could well lead to a renewed challenge for its bigger rival.

Nevertheless, by any reasonable measure, Samsung has HTC on the ropes, which makes such a clumsy smear campaign all the more mystifying. The news doesn't seem to have caused much of a stir in the Western tech community, though -- at least, not yet.

I mean, the only thing weirder than that would be if HTC did something similar to Samsung, right? Well, strap on your weird helmets, because there was a suggestion that that's exactly what happened -- the indefatigable SamMobile reported that Samsung would be trading its standard plastic construction for more high-end materials in the upcoming Galaxy Note 3, based on the rave reviews given to the HTC One's slick aluminum finish. The site credited its usual anonymous "insider" sources for the scoop.

However, at least one tech blogger has said that this is hooey -- hooey, no less, drawn from the creative minds of HTC's PR department.

Rumour mill. Note 3 will be different by materials and design from current models due to success of HTC one. Really god work for HTC pr team

I'm not quite sure what this means, to be honest -- while the Australian International Business Times interpreted Eldar Murtazin's tweet as saying that HTC had somehow cooked up the rumor in-house, he may simply be saying that it's a great PR filip for the Taiwanese company.

~~

As to the rumor itself -- given the success of the plastic Galaxy S3 and upcoming Galaxy S4, it seems strange to think that Samsung would switch gears in such a dramatic way just because a few geeky reviewers oohed and ahhed over the HTC One. But then, I wouldn't have though they'd try to pay people for phony reviews either, so who knows?

Speaking of stuff nobody seems to know -- what to make of Motorola's future releases? First, we kept hearing about the Moto X phone that was going to launch at Google I/O, then Google CFO Patrick Pichette damped down expectations, and now Eric Schmidt is telling everyone that Google's new hardware arm is gearing up to release "phenomenal" new products.

Schmidt, at an All Things D event, described "phones-plus" on their way from Motorola.

Yes, Eric, but plus what? Drinking straws? Jet engines? Guess we'll have to wait and see. I'm not looking for a huge mobile hardware announcement at I/O, but I'm getting to the point where it wouldn't be a complete surprise, either.

The standard pattern of pay money, get stuck into two-year contract, rinse and repeat has been a fact of life since smartphones hit the market -- but that's (slowly) changing.

The biggest news, of course, was T-Mobile's announcement of drastically restructured plans and fees -- no more contract lock-in, unlimited talk/text/Web and installment payments for new phones -- announced late last month. Verizon, however, said this week that it would adopt a limited version of the installment plan for device upgrades -- you'll have to pay full retail price, but you can spread the cost out over a period of months.

Oh, and Big Red also pushed back upgrade eligibility to 24 months, up from 20 months previously. Less cool.

[Hat tip: Android Guys]

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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