Apple has long been the smartphone king, but is the company now running scared following the launch of the Galaxy S4?

Apple's Phil Schiller
DATE IMPORTED:September 12, 2012Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple Inc., introduces the iPhone 5 during Apple Inc.\'s iPhone media event in San Francisco, California September 12, 2012. (Credit: Reuters)

Apple has always shown a detached contempt for Android and the many manufacturers which use Google's operating system to power their smartphones. Apple didn't even feel the need to directly address its rivals, preferring to play up the 'brilliance' of it's own iPhone and iOS.

It treated Android like something it had stepped in and needed to remove from the bottom of its perfectly polished shoe.

However times have changed and a comment by Apple's VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller ahead of the launch of the Galaxy S4 on last week, gave a rare insight into how Apple may be beginning to feel threatened by the South Korean manufacturer.

In an interview with Reuters, Schiller was having a general rant about Android and the fragmented state of the OS, when he added:

"And that extends to the news we are hearing this week that the Samsung Galaxy S4 is being rumoured to ship with an OS that is nearly a year old. Customers will have to wait to get an update."

Schiller's belief that the Galaxy S4 would ship with a year-old version of Android was based entirely on rumours, and proved to be completely inaccurate within 24 hours when Samsung announced the new phone would ship with the most up-to-date version, Android 4.2.2 - which is less than a a month old.

The fact Schiller decided to join the myriad of tech bloggers around the world and enter into the realm of speculation speaks of an air of fear which seems to be pervading Apple's Cupertino headquarters.

Jean-Louis Gassée on his Monday Note blog said he thinks Apple is losing the war of words with Samsung, and believes Schiller's outburst was a mistake: "Because of its position at the top, Apple should have the grace to not trash its competitors, especially when the digs are humourless and further weakened by error."

Smartphone shift

2012 saw the smartphone market shift definitively in Samsung's favour. Apple is no longer the de facto smartphone king and it knows it.

Within days of the launch of the Galaxy S4, Apple launched a new section on its website this weekend entitled "Why iPhone."

Why iPhone
Apple\'s new website gives people reasons why they should choose the iPhone over other devices.

The website's headline reads: "There's iPhone. And then there's everything else."

The page then goes on to outline other reasons people choose the iPhone but what stands out is that each of these reasons is no longer unique to Apple.

For example Apple says the Retina display on its iPhone is a feature only found on Apple products. While this is technically correct as the Retina label is an Apple trademark, the screen on the Galaxy s4 - along with many other Android smartphones - is larger and has a higher pixel density than the iPhone.

The fact Apple even needs to outline reasons people should choose the iPhone gives conscious recognition to the fact there are other comparable phones out there which people are choosing over the iPhone.

Like HTC's ill-judged attack on the Galaxy S4 last week, Apple is only giving credence to the domination of Samsung by referencing them and their flagship phone in comments.

Apple can no longer rely on the people simply continuing to buy iPhones without considering other options as they have done for the last five years.

Larger, more powerful and well-designed smartphones are out there. Android may have some way to go to match iOS in terms of reliability and ease of use, but it is catching up fast.

The iPhone 5S/iPhone 6 and iOS 7 will be major tests of Apple's ambition in 2013, and it will be interesting to see if Samsung will be as worried about Apple's new phone as Apple clearly is about Samsung's.