How Samsung went from exciting to uninspiring

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Samsung rode on the wave of the iPhone to success. The Asian tiger rose to Android dominance by copying the design cues of the iPhone for its Galaxy S series and it paid off handsomely. See Photo Shoot: Apple, Samsung, and Nokia and Aping Apple – Stupid, stupid mobile manufacturers. That was in the beginning. Samsung became a blazing brand in mobile and quickly became the dominant power. They still are, but the flame is not burning so bright anymore.

Photocopy ko easy (Photocopy is not easy)
For one, it seems that Samsung has gotten it into their head that copying the iPhone to the hilt is the way forward perpetually. Copying the visual design cues of the iPhone was okay. But now forging ahead in copying the limitations of the Apple’s cool aid in their flagship devices is downright silly. No micro SD card. No removable battery. Duh. Very soon, perhaps Samsung will remove multitasking and skin TouchWiz to run like iOS does.

But here is the deal: Android is not iOS. And the average Android user is not like the average iOS user. Android is about freedom and flexibility. For one, the freedom to choose how the user stores files and when to change their battery.

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge curved display

Less Is More
But such things aside, Samsung is also overreaching, somewhat reminding one of Nokia at some point. Infact, Nokia was still doing this as at last year (remember the debate about Nokia’s Lumia product line?). Like Nokia did, Samsung has multiple devices in each price bracket – and with no significant differences between those devices. They look alike, feel almost exactly the same, and have similar specs and similar prices. The result? Confusion for buyers and users. Plus, the huge waste of the resources that go into producing and marketing those devices.

See the S6 range. There’s the S6, the S6 Edge, and now the S6 Edge+ and Note 5. All of these at the top. And where are the distinguishing differences across these devices? Bummer. The same applies at the bottom of the pyramid – multiple devices with no distinguishing differentiation.

At the top, the iPhone is outselling Samsung. At the bottom, the Chinese bears are eating everything up. Yet, Samsung is busy removing everything that the very platform it rides on stands for – liberty and flexibility – and reproducing phones like a rodent.

The Way Android OS Is
Lastly, Samsung bet on Android OS, a platform that by its very nature ensures that cannibalization of its hardware partners is the only way forward. The truth is that the Android ecosystem is unable to sustain a huge number of brands (especially big ones) for a significant period without them being edged out by newer ones. New brands will keep showing up and eating up the lunch of older brands simply by pushing lower costs. The lunch will keep getting smaller and smaller till eventually there is no lunch to eat by anyone. This is a subject for another day (see my older article, Perhaps iOS is the only commercially viable smartphone platform though for a hint), but being the top Android dog now means that Samsung is right in the middle of this atrophy. See: Who exactly is making money on Android OS?

On The Ground
I was with a group of people last week and someone asked for phones to add to a list of outstanding bargain-for-money smartphones. Not one Samsung was mentioned. I asked why. People responded with one form of dismissal or the other. All of them agreed when someone finally replied that there was nothing from Samsung that is striking enough in terms of features and value versus pricing.

You may disagree, but Samsung phones are not selling enough and the company’s profits are taking a hit. That response cannot be too far from the truth.

The Way Forward?
In my opinion, the way out for Samsung is to cut off multiple products across the various price segments and produce just one device per segment yearly – one flagship, one mid-tier, and one budget device. Cut off all waste. Add back the missing feature at the high end. Innovate some more. More like be the premium poster boy of Android, instead of trying to be everything to everyone that they currently are trying to be. Yes; this means that Samsung will lose marketshare, but they stand a better chance of staying profitable that way.

However you look at it, it is tough to be Samsung Mobile right now.