Samsung Epic smartphone sales date coming soon

Sprint is holding off the Epic's release to build up inventory amid global touchscreen display shortage

The Samsung Epic, an Android 2.1 smartphone with a physical slideout keyboard that will run on Sprint's WiMax 4G network, could ship by Aug. 21, based on various reports citing unnamed sources.

Aside from the date of sale, however, many customers might wonder how long the device can remain in stock, given a shortage of displays affecting a number of devices, including the first 4G phone from Sprint, the HTC Evo 4G .

Sprint wouldn't confirm any shipping date or price for the Epic today, but a spokesman said more details will be revealed by the end of this week, which tends to support that a release date is fairly imminent. Many analysts predict a $200 price for the Epic, which is in line with the cost of the Evo after rebate and with a two-year Sprint contract.

Epic would be the first phone in the Galaxy S class of phones from Samsung with faster 4G capabilities and a slide-out keyboard.

Sprint unveiled the device in late June as its second 4G smartphone after the HTC Evo 4G running on Sprint's 4G and 3G networks. Sprint has wrestled with keeping up with Evo stock for its customers, owing to a global shortage of touchscreen displays, Sprint officials said recently and again in interviews today.

"There's just a huge global parts shortage, with screens mainly," said Matt Carter, president of 4G at Sprint in an interview. The Evo, with a 4.3-inch screen, is sold out online through Sprint, although customers are advised on the Sprint Web site to check Sprint stores for availability.

Carter and a Sprint spokesman, Joe Mandacina, said that lessons learned by Sprint, Best Buy and Radio Shack about keeping the Evo in stock and anticipating customer demand should help prevent serious supply shortages for the Epic. They also confirmed reports that Samsung was likely to have more of the AMOLED displays for its Galaxy S phones (including the 4-inch Epic). Samsung is holding on to those screens, which are supposed to be faster, brighter and less reflective, for its own use rather than selling them to HTC or other phone makers.

In late July, HTC said it would turn to Sony for Super LCD displays instead of Samsung's AMOLED displays, citing a shortage.

"I can't speak to Samsung supply issues, but with the forecast we provided [them], there's not been pushback, there's not been any [Epic supply] concern on their part," Carter said.

Carter said Epic will sell to both consumers and business users. He wouldn't say, however, that it would outsell the Evo, which also has a touchscreen but no physical keyboard. "It's hard to say Epic will be a better seller [than Evo] since both are compelling," he said.

"It's just preference" that will matter, Carter said. BlackBerry users who are considering a change, for example, are usually interested in having a physical keyboard instead of a touchscreen only, Carter said. "Both phones are equally compelling for office workers or others. Some people don't like a touchscreen, like me. I find my fingers are too big."

Regarding the Evo supply shortage, Carter said that Sprint CEO Dan Hesse is "constantly on the phone, every day, with the president of HTC to say, 'give me more.' We just exceeded our wildest expectations with that phone. HTC has been surprised by the [high] number we asked for and we've blown through that."

Carter said Sprint is putting the Evos in stores as soon as the carrier gets them, and predicted the shortage will ease soon. "HTC has factories running around the clock, so we're hopeful to start seeing some normalization around this [shortage] over the next few weeks or so," Carter said.

Epic was expected by many bloggers to have gone on sale this week, possibly even today, but delaying the release has apparently been part of Sprint's tactic to build up a stockpile of the smartphones. "Supply is part of the decision about the launch," Mandacina said. "Why launch and have frustrated customers? So we'll wait to build an inventory."

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