Last week when I argued that Apple should win its litigation battle against Samsung to preserve innovation and great products, Samsung fans, behaving like poor copies of their Apple counterparts, pounded me. But these Samsung fans got me thinking about whether Samsung is to Apple what Apple has been to Microsoft for the past decade.
Apple has excelled by taking Microsoft ideas and improving on them. The problem hasn’t been that Microsoft didn’t innovate; the company just didn’t execute. Microsoft manufactured smartphones and even had the idea for the iPhone before Apple did. Microsoft produced MP3 players before Apple had an Apple iPod Touch-like product on the market. They played music and did most of what the iPod Touch did years before the Touch came to market. Even though Microsoft wasn’t the first with tablets, Microsoft tablets were on the market years before the iPad.
Now granted, Microsoft’s PDA was a poor emulation of the Palm Pilot, which came out of the poorly executed Apple Newton. So we could argue about who was really first. But now Samsung is doing to Apple what Apple did to Microsoft and what Microsoft did to Apple with Windows. So is Samsung replacing Apple, just as Apple replaced Microsoft and as Microsoft replaced Apple? OK, now I’m even getting confused. I’m going to argue Samsung is replacing Apple, much as Samsung replaced Sony, and that this is bad for you, the consumer.
Samsung is faster
The consumer electronics market is speeding up. Smartphones in particular have moved quickly to 4G along with larger screens and faster processors. Apple, which once led this market in technology, always had issues, with the latest radios being late to both 3G and 4G. More recently, Apple has fallen behind in screen size. Even if the iPhone is 4 inches, the market appears to have already moved to 4.5 inches, placing Apple behind.
These diagramsis link clearly illustrate that Samsung copied Apple. But you can also see Samsung improved on Apple’s hardware designs. Samsung appears to be on the cutting edge of these changes far more often than Apple is (the Galaxy S III often ranks higher than the iPhone 4S in the market). This suggests Apple is having trouble keeping up, and Samsung, not Apple, is increasingly driving the high-profile markets they share (with the clear exceptions of iPods and PCs).
Consider the Galaxy Note that we reviewed earlier this week. In many useful ways it is superior to the iPad. Granted, the Galaxy Note lacks the sheer eye candy of a Retina screen, but in terms of being a useful product, the Note feels like a better execution than the iPad 2.
Whether you agree with this assessment of the Galaxy Note, you have to agree that Samsung is cycling its products quicker and thus improving them faster than Apple does, which should result in a sustainable execution advantage. Given this is how Samsung beat Sony, one can easily conclude that, using the same strategy, Samsung may be poised to beat Apple.
Besides Samsung’s speed advantages, there are early indications that Apple is getting weaker. I’m seeing reports out of the Apple stores that satisfaction is dropping as Jobs’ policies of focusing staff on customer satisfaction are replaced by policies focusing staff on sales (and Apple has had a history of underpaying staff). On top of this, the stores appear to be downsizing staff significantly. (Update: Many Apple stores are now hiring fired laid-off employees back.) For the first time, I’m hearing stories of sales experiences similar to those in traditional stores, in which Apple sales reps ambush folks walking in and appear to be operating on commissions now and want to close sales.
On the product side, the product-refresh cycle has clearly slowed down. The expected iPhone launch (traditionally in June) has apparently slipped until September, the Mac refresh was very late, and unless something happens quickly, even the fourth-quarter refresh of the iPods (generally in August) will be late. Word out of Apple suggests postponed decisions, missed deadlines, and an increase in secrets leaking out of the company, all of which points to Apple having difficulty executing.
With Samsung increasing its level of execution and Apple falling off, one has the potential to replace the other, but the customer gets screwed.
Why you, the customer, are still screwed in a Samsung world
The issue comes back to customer satisfaction. Even with Apple’s apparent decline in execution, the company maintains by far the highest customer satisfaction and loyalty scores in the industry (they have dropped a lot of late, though). Samsung, on the other hand, sucks (the link is to Net Promoter Scores, which showcase both satisfaction and customer loyalty). I’ve personally bought a number of Samsung products, and the company’s service and support organization is truly horrid, particularly compared to Apple’s.
Customer satisfaction speaks to whether we are happy with what we purchase. Samsung’s scores suggest that if Samsung wins, consumers as a group will be less happy than they are now. Unless Samsung improves the way it treats customers, I can’t support that company replacing Apple at the top of the pile.
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.