Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Samsung: A Worthy Challenger to Apple

There's no arguing that Apple set the standard for modern mobile devices with the iPhone and the iPad. It didn't take long after those two products launched for competitors to rush out their own copycat devices. Samsung is one of those challengers.

Therefore, it is not at all a surprise that Apple Inc. topped the Fortune’s list for the sixth time as the world's most admired company for innovation. And Boston Consulting Group/BusinessWeek had it number one in their global list for 2012. [Only the Forbes list of the world’s most innovative is a notable exception placing Apple fifth].

But it's no longer about being as good as Apple. You must be better. Competitors have built upon the foundation Apple laid in mobile and are now leapfrogging it with a cluster of useful features you can't find on iPhones and iPads.

The evidence is everywhere, but it's most apparent in products made by Apple's biggest mobile rival, Samsung!

Today, the world must pay attention to Samsung. You cannot ignore the fact that the company is into innovation in a big way and with a frequency that is admirable, if not remarkable – creating popular product categories that Apple is tiptoeing around because the latter is wary to try.

The best example of this is the Galaxy Note which first made an appearance in October 2011 – a 5.3-inch smartphone that was big enough to make people wonder if it was really a phone or a tablet? Or some even derided it as a Korean joke! In fact, smartphone industry blog Boy Genius Report called the Note “the most useless phone I’ve ever used,” adding: “You will look stupid talking on it, people will laugh at you, and you’ll be unhappy if you buy it.” Gizmodo argued that the Note “isn’t just designed poorly – it’s hardly even designed for humans”. By the way, it even came with a stylus, that relic of the Palm Pilot era, making the Note feel like a step backward.

Yet, in spite of these reviews, Samsung announced in December that one million Galaxy Notes were shipped in less than two months. In 2012, it sold 10 million Notes, making it one of the most successful smartphone launches in history.

In August 2012, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note II, an upgraded version with an even larger screen (151.1 x 80.5 x 9.4mm or 5.9 x 3.2 x 0.4 inches), and promptly sold 5 million of them within two months! It was referred to as a phablet – a smartphone-tablet hybrid.

More importantly, Samsung created a new category of smartphone that people didn't even know they wanted much like Apple did when it released the first iPhone, way back in June 2007.

Additionally, Samsung has proven to be very versatile at adding new software features to its devices. Its director of product planning, Shoneel Kolhatkar, said the company takes user and reviewer input into account when preparing to deliver these software updates. Instead of making users wait a year for new features – as Apple is wont to do – Kolhatkar said Samsung can use that feedback to deliver "incremental innovation that keeps the product alive".

Sure, Apple Inc. is No. 1, at least according to the Boston Consulting Group, but Samsung is already sniffing at its heels. The latter’s position at No. 3 is telling. For much of 2012, its reputation hung in the balance. Or so most of us thought.

Having been taken to court by Apple for patent infringement, one would be hard-pressed to imagine that Samsung can spring and land within striking distance of Apple. And to think that Samsung was even labeled as a copier (re: the early Galaxy designs), not as an innovator.

Yet, its record for innovation, as opposed to its litigation with Apple, is finally winning hordes of fans everywhere and not just at BCG. The company is innovating at a pace faster than Apple can. And that might bode ill for Apple in 2013.

That's right! 2013 may well be the year we look to Korea for who is defining the future of tech. Apple fans, eat your hearts out!

It is true that Apple was (although many will insist it still "is") known for its breakthrough innovations. It reshaped the smartphone industry when Nokia was clueless. It gave us the Ultra, with MacAir, and it finally got tablets right with the iPad. To many, that run ended in 2010, too long ago for Apple to continue receiving the bouquets of praises.

Still, don’t write off Apple just yet – the concept of sustainable innovation must also embrace periods of incremental change and relative failure. I suspect Apple will come back with a vengeance. And Samsung must be on its toes if it wishes to challenge Apple. I look at this competition with lots of positivity. When both these companies compete – customers benefit!

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Strategically, Apple has lost touch with consumer's taste. With the lost of Steve Jobs, Apple lost its direction and mojo. It is only attempting to extent Jobs legacy and vision until it runs out of steam.

Samsung is not only reading the market trend quite accurately, but also are quite adapt at setting trends. Its got quite a number of strengths it can capitalise on.

I do not believe Apple will survive much longer and will go the way of Nokia.....its a matter of time.