Is Samsung about to become the new… Apple?
Oh boy, oh boy… game on. It’s no news that Apple and Samsung are going head to head in the smartphone and tablet computer industry. Since 2011, they have been involved in at least 50 lawsuits all over the world, with Apple winning some, and Samsung winning others. So, why, exactly, am I now blogging about this, when this is so… like… 2011? Better yet, why is this rivalry suddenly of such interest as to warrant a full story in the Technology section of the New York Times just this last Sunday? Apparently, Samsung actually now has a chance to be a real competitor, no, perhaps even to dominate Apple in the not-too-distant future.
This is a particularly interesting prediction, seeing that Apple still clearly has the market cornered, raking in 72% of the profits in the mobile phone industry and Samsung taking the remaining drippings (Apple and Samsung surprisingly are currently the only two companies turning profits selling mobile phones!). What makes Samsung a potentially lethal competitor is their approach on design.
In 1989, Steve Jobs was named as Entrepreneur of the Decade by Inc. Magazine. Characterized as brash, boyish, and a perfectionist, in his interview with Inc. editors George Gendron and Bo Burlingham, Jobs proclaims that he designs not for what consumers want (they don’t know what they want), but what they might think is impossible. In other words, if you ask consumers what new functionality they want in a gadget, by the time you can deliver that functionality, they are ready for the next step and won’t be satisfied. As a result, in Jobs’ mind, the key to innovative design was to tell consumers what they want before they know it. Clearly, this worked quite well for Apple.
In contrast, Samsung takes a more… traditional approach, using market research to guide trends and innovation. According to Kim Hyun-suk, the executive vice president of Samsung, the company’s modus operandi is to use the market as the driver for product design, and not to drive the market in a certain direction — interesting, considering their extraordinary success with the Galaxy product line, and its reviews claiming its innovative features. Another example: while Apple just recently released the iPhone 5 with a larger screen, Samsung was already selling the 5.3″ screen Galaxy Note. This difference in design philosophy is reflected, also, in the budget allocations at the two companies, with Samsung outspending Apple in R&D, at a nearly 3:1 level ($10.5 billion to $3.4 billion).
What I found particularly notable is Samsung’s approach for design inspiration. They employ 60,000 staff members distributed across 34 research centers in multiple different countries, all saddled with the ultimate task of studying trends in each country and gaining inspiration for ideas. They look far outside electronics for inspiration, including fashion, automobiles, and interior design; and employ designers from a multitude of different backgrounds, including psychology, sociology, economy management, and engineering. Ah, curious… Much as biodesign and the application of biomimetics to idea generation benefits from multidisciplinary diversity, here we have again the melting pot of creative people coming from very different backgrounds, bringing to their design a perspective unique to their training and their lives, creating products with broad appeal and forward-thinking functionality… when the goal is not to drive the market… just a little food for thought.