Samsung Unpacked? More like evacuated (the scatological definition, of course). Has there been a lazier, more uninspired desperation yelp of a product from a consumer electronics company in recent memory?
Put your hand down, Microsoft.
The Galaxy Gear represents the new Samsung. Hobbling out of courtrooms around the world with half a foot broken off in its ass, over the last 2 years or so the company has been forced to rely on its own design chops and a lucrative marketing budget to sell the devices that comprise 2/3 of the company’s profits. Neither of these things are Samsung’s strengths. Actually, I’d call the advertising a “push.” I did admit to liking Samsung’s slutty wife. Samsung’s ads over the past year have had a certain “beer commercial appeal” to them, with a sprinkling of value proposition thrown in. The things Samsung chose to feature in these spots – such as a “feature” that allowed you to wave your hand in front of your phone to answer it, instead of…ummm…answering it – were things no one gave a shit about or worked nothing like shown in the ad. It didn’t matter. These are the ads a company must pursue when its products offer little else and they were just funny and divisive enough to put the Samsung brand into the consumer consciousness. But when your products’ actual value belies the cutesy advertising that put them in the hands of consumers, that real estate flips real fast. I like to laugh at beer commercials too, but I don’t believe I’m going to transform into the Most Interesting Man in the World if I drink Dos Equis. It’s one thing to get your name out there; it’s entirely another to back up your advertising with quality products. The jig’s up Sammy, but there is hope for them, and the secret to their future success involves a very familiar strategy.
Start copying Apple. Again.
Samsung’s history in consumer electronics can be broken into 3 eras: when they made the same shit as everyone else did, when they shamelessly ripped off Apple’s products and when they still ripped off Apple (albeit less shamelessly) but also tried their own shit. Guess which one of these eras defines Samsung as a consumer electronics success story?
Let’s be honest about Samsung as an innovator: they fucking suck at it. The Galaxy Gear removed any doubt that Sammy could match complimentary colors, let alone define a product category. But that’s never been Samsung. Samsung is a company that steals other companies’ product implementations and permutates every spec – screen size, processor, stylus/no stylus – until every conceivable price point in a device category has a Samsung representative. They can do no wrong in their mother country, and across the globe they pave over their competitors by assaulting all marketing channels and backfilling with a platoon of litigious infantry to drag out any legal entanglement until the adversary is either bled dry or the disputed product’s lifecycle withers. Before the iPhone, Samsung’s CE product strategy was no different than it is today, the only difference being that the products they were copying sucked balls.
Starting with the Galaxy SIII, Samsung started to move away from its strategy of leaching creativity from Apple, thanks in no small part to the storm gathering strength in courtrooms all over the world before it unleashed a deluge in a California District Court. Reeling from the unwitting cloning of its desktop OS intellectual property by Microsoft in the 90s, Apple patented the hell out of the look and feel of the iPhone before its release in 2007 and relentlessly went after almost every party looking to profit from their work. As part of this “thermonuclear war,” Samsung was found to have willfully infringed on Apple’s intellectual property and was sentenced to pay $1.05 billion in damages.
And this is why Samsung should go back to copying Apple: that verdict hasn’t meant shit.
In March, Judge Lucy Koh reduced the amount of damages – damages that were calculated by a jury and awarded to Apple – to $600 million. Samsung cried that the jury foreman was tainted by his experiences with Samsung, an accusation that was thrown out. Samsung kicked and screamed about the amount of the award, both how it was calculated and the patents that generated the award, filed motions or otherwise complained publicly about every facet of the trial and its subsequent proceedings. A new damages trial is set to begin in mid-November (no rush), one which Samsung will no doubt ensure drags on as long as litigiously possible. In the 377 days since a jury declared that Apple’s intellectual property was deliberately infringed upon by Samsung for their monetary gain, Apple has yet to receive a nickel of its damages, nor has the verdict resulted in a single ban on the sale of any of the infringing products. Judge Koh has come to symbolize everything wrong with the U.S. patent system, including the judicial infrastructure meant to enforce it.
The patent system in this country exists to benefit serpents like Nathan Myhrvold, who use hundreds – perhaps over a thousand – shell corporations to troll companies for money using intellectual property devised in brainstorming sessions for that specific purpose. That’s right: Intellectual Ventures sits around a table with its lawyers to think up patentable ideas that have no future in the creation of an actual product. This system hasn’t – and probably won’t – help Apple. The most successful tech company on the planet, one that pays billions into tax coffers of countries around the world, didn’t want to have its years of research and design sucked through a straw and vomited into a knock-off mobile OS running on cheap knock-off devices. What were they thinking?
Now, I understand that since the release of the iPhone and iPad, devices that remade and created markets, copying Apple may not be as lucrative as it was before. Everything Apple has done since is basically a riff on those 2 products, and the returns are bound to diminish. But now that Apple’s the darling of the tech world and a blurry photo of an alleged iOS component can drive millions of pageviews, therein lies the opportunity for Samsung to do what it has always made its money doing: stealing ideas from real innovators without fear of reprisal.