Why Samsung (and Others) Cannot Compete With Apple
This great photo via MinimallyMinimal.com perfectly sums up Apple & its competitors - in this case, Samsung. (see the full sized photo there).
People ask why - well part of the reason is obvious in the typical school of corporate thinking - how can one phone/thing be all things to all people? And it was true in the old school (pre 2007/pre iPhone) thinking when a phone’s software was essentially locked in once it left the factory. The main questions to answer on hardware was simply weight or clamshell … and “software” was what feature choices you used most & was the most important criteria for you with tradeoffs on the rest. (talking on it, texting, adding ringtones or taking photos). It was like buying most hardware. Here are your choices - you make compromises based on price and those very limited options.
Sure, in theory you could root/flash your phone if you wanted to but 99.9% of people could not even change the main wallpaper, let alone go to hinckey Eastern European website to download a barebone terminal-like app - it was a moot “feature.”
The iPhone changed all that in 2007 - not all at once but the road was cast.
So, why have most of Apple’s competitors not changed their way of thinking?
There are THREE reasons.
The #1 main reason seems like a good one on the surface.
You want to establish a brand and then trying to fill every focus group niche out there … why not? If there’s a dollar, yen, yuan or Euro to be made … It makes sense in many aspects. You want to amortize your research, your production and your employees, your distribution, etc … if people want mango bleach, peppermint vodka or lime green rims, that’s fine but you have to draw the line somewhere. Otherwise, you stretch everything a little far and a little too micro - what is the difference between pina colada bleach and coconut bleach? Do you really need another hundreds headcount to launch that extra, extra, extra line extension?
But why do corporations like to pile on the product choices & line extensions?
#2 SPAN OF CONTROL
From the top down, every division lead wants head count. That’s more money and more budget. This means a product manager, marketing manager, PR manager, etc, etc for EVERY product (or nearly every product) so the more products you release, that makes you look more powerful and “better” as more revenue “derive” from you and more employees report to you … and if you throw enough stuff against the wall, some have to make money, every one that you throw against the wall and that a retailer takes means that one less competitor has their product against the wall/peg … and note, this competitor might be an internal competitor … besides, most corporations are not run by the smartest people that crawled up the ladder but usually the most ruthless ladder climber … or in many cases, the best *** kisser or in some scary cases, the one who simply outlast the others in being as banal and make no decisions that anyone can trace to them.
So, in most cases, these leads have no real idea why people use their products as they don’t really care - it’s just a product - whether it’s ice cream, cardboard boxes or phones - decisions are based on focus groups and research numbers. Which is also good because failure can then be blamed on bad market data, or consumers were “fooled” by marketing (aka: Apple marketing). So, releasing 20 models, this not only hedges the bet, but relieves them of any blame - and of course, it’s unlikely all 20 will fail so they will take credit for any “successes” and have a dozen excuses ready for any failures.
Also keep in mind, when this filters down or becomes the culture of the company, then everyone in the company spends most of their time protecting their jobs, and along with that comes the benign or not so benign internal battles to quash others and “innovations” that did not come from their department. As a result, who is willing to risk coming up with new ideas when dozens of others might attack their position? (in the most steath, backhanded way possible, of course) … the best recourse is to either gather consensus on every decision or just reinforce ideas of the most “powerful” boss … is it any wonder no new ideas get very far or are sanded down by consensus?
#3 is related to it - the “no rock stars” rule of thumb. Diffusion of Control.
By scattering the feature set among a dozen phones (or products), that also blocks any “rock stars” from emerging - so no one rock star can steal glory from the VP. After all, if some hotshot creates the perfect phone in your division, why do they need you as VP? But if a few dozen phones are relative successes, obviously you as VP can pick “winners,” and they need you around to manage the process as there is no ONE great phone … as long as you are mostly successful, why mess with success?
Now, admitedly, this is not entirely dumb as you cannot find a Steve Jobs, Part II that easily but most companies don’t exactly look for a mold breaker. They mostly want a cog to keep the process rolling but not compete for their VP job.
Somewhere between a startup and becoming a professional corporation is the fine line of bureacracy and once you cross it … one of the most egregious example is Microsoft hobbling their own mobile OS because it had to run Windows desktop apps - no questions asked.
Or there’s a time to have internal competition and another to pointless reinvent the same product as Sony recently discovered 4 DIFFERENT divisions were each building a tablet. Or as InfoWeek pointed out, Samsung - At this point, Samsung now offers Android devices with the following screen sizes:
and 3-inch displays.
As InfoWeek notes, "All Samsung is missing is something with a 6-inch display and it’ll have a full house. Or a royal flush. Or a marketing nightmare."
One strength of Apple is by building so few products, everyone works on it together.
This is also why Android upgrades are brushed aside. The hardware VP could care less about the phone OS being upgraded, if anything, it cuts into sales of their new phone/tablet - why let you upgrade? (also applies to telcos). It’s simply a different business model.
As a result - this why nearly every company in the world touts themselves as innovative as EVERYONE can come up with new ideas and processes but how far does it get? If you don’t actually apply new innovations or ideas are blocked by actual employees, then you are not going to be all that innovative. As long as EVERYONE else plays by these rules in the industry, any incremental improvement is innovation - the problem is Apple plays by different rules and has changed the rules.
So, having 50 products, 200 products or 10,000 products is not always a bad thing as long as your competitors are willing to play along but when your competitor builds only a few products that is best in class, then having 13-screen sizes for your phone and tablets means YOU DO NOT KNOW ANYTHING as you cannot even decide what screen size is best - and that the “best solution” will emerge from the internal gamesmanship …
Or just as equally non-effective, you only have a few products but its feature set or design or UI is fought over by dozens of departments … end result - you have the Kindle or the PS3, not a camel as designed by a horse committee as the old joke goes but metal replica of a camel so it meets specs but it’s not even as good as a real camel (who can travel deserts carrying people & huge loads).
Apple focuses and decides to just release THE BEST, their competitors right now are are willing to settle for THE REST as they are simply dog tired from the internal gamesmanship.
As if that’s not enough, Apple also leads in research, logistics, locking in new technologies (via either internal development or locking up purchases) … and they are not so bad in marketing.
Apple has no monopoly on brain power nor formulating & implementing a business plan. Apple understands what people want, how to manufacture it, how to make it easy to use, how to sex it up and how to apply all of these to the real world. Apple’s competitors are just as smart - the only problem is they have decided to lock themselves in a room and to fight each other first. Smart or not so smart? Can they change their company culture? Unlikely … like RIM’s game plan, waiting for Apple to stumble or fail … it is a plan, just not a very good plan - certainly not great so far and who’s willing to bet against Apple in the next 24-36 months?