As a company, Apple has almost always been about thinking different. The Apple culture tends to create new products by looking at what is being solved, how it’s being solved, and then coming up with a fresh approach which is then refined and polished over time. How’s that working out so far?
Copy? Or Innovate?
We can argue all day and half the night about who makes better products, or why we prefer this product over that one, but it’s safe to say that Apple’s methods have done the company well.
Although Apple has a well deserved reputation for innovation jumps, the company also deserves some praise for iteration– the constant stream of improvements. Both are elements to Apple’s success and wealth, and both tie into customer satisfaction, as well as the company’s competitive environment. Innovation and iteration are not exclusive to Apple, so how is Apple different?
First, can I say that even Samsung innovates and iterates? Yes. It’s obvious. Samsung’s innovation in the smartphone and tablet arena has been to copy as much about Apple’s products as possible. From the launch in 2007, the iPhone’s interface and usability stool tall above what was considered smartphone standards.
Pretty much every competitor was caught completely flatfooted. Once Apple added the App Store and began the steady stream of iterative improvements, the smartphone world changed. It wasn’t long before Microsoft, BlackBerry, Nokia, and others were on a downhill slide from which they have yet to recover, despite producing better products than ever.
What else happened? Make no mistake. Google’s Android OS was rushed into a fast pace of development because of the iPhone’s interface and usability and growing popularity. Wisely, Samsung, instead of innovating something better and beyond the iPhone, simply copied Apple designs and stuffed them with Android’s latest version.
The combination of Android and Samsung helped stem the tide of Apple’s rapid conquering of the whole smartphone industry, although the iPhone maker owns the lion’s share of profits.
How did all this happen? Customers. Apple’s focus has almost always been on usability. The company doesn’t always embrace the nerds, geeks, or technical pundits and their laundry list of must-have features. Apple is disciplined and focuses on comfortable usability. So far, at least where iPhone and iPad are concerned, others, including Samsung, have merely copied from the original.
Customers tend to vote with their money and their feet. If they’re comfortable and like to use a product, they’ll buy it again, tell their friends about it, and they’re not easily dislodged. That’s the problem that Microsoft, Nokia, HTC, Motorola, and BlackBerry have today. Instead of focusing on the user experience, their newer products, all feature-laden and highly acclaimed, are merely bullet points of features.
Worse, they haven’t advanced the game to another level. The iPhone’s interface and usability was light years ahead of smartphones of the day (as the iPad was to previous tablets), and provided a compelling reason for customers to buy. What’s the compelling reason to buy a Samsung Galaxy S3? It’s like an iPhone.
What’s the compelling reason to switch from an iPhone to a BlackBerry, or Microsoft Windows phone, or any of the lesser-known Android smartphones? The iPhone and ecosystem are known, comfortable entities that customers trust. The others are not.
Again, Samsung was wise to move quickly to copy Apple’s designs as that segregated Samsung’s Galaxy line– not from Apple’s iPhone or iPad– but from other Android smartphones and tablets. If Apple owns first place (revenue and profit), then Samsung is clearly the runner up. Everyone else has fallen into crumb grabbing stage.
Samsung not only copied Apple’s designs, but copies some of Apple’s methodology, hence The Samsung Experience store-within-a-store coming to Best Buy. That gives Samsung a visible, visual retail presence, and further separates the Korean maker from other devices.
What Samsung is missing in this competition is customer love and affection. No, not the kind from geeks and nerds like Andy Ihnatko’s switch from iPhone to Galaxy. That’s not the norm. That’s the exception. Apple’s customers display love and affection, both for products (Mac, iPhone, iPad), and the company (more the former than the latter, I believe).
That segregates Apple from Samsung and others in the hotly competitive field of smartphones and tablets. All these competitors are driven to succeed, but for different reasons. Apple seems to want to create great new products, then polish them ad infinitum. Samsung as a company is bred from the Korean culture of fear and desperation– fear of China on one side, Japan on the other. And desperation to make a place of substance and position in the world. Copying every move that Apple makes has worked well for Samsung. Microsoft, BlackBerry, Nokia, and Google have a proven pathway to success. Will they take it?