Sunday, September 2, 2012

"Three-star Samsung", discussion over article in Helsingin Sanomat 2.9.12.

Helsingin Sanomat wrote a story titled "Kolmen tähden Samsung" or "Three-star Samsung" (my freestyle translation), where the new mobile industry giant is probed and dissected, providing a lot of surprising and interesting information from a former insider, Sami Paihonen.

This is my freeform translation of that article, as this post will also attempt to discuss the contents of the article. Therefore it won't be a 1:1 translation, and I will be cherry-picking topics of interest out of it. Hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Full credits of the article can be found at the end of the story.

UPDATE: James Song from Samsung admits to Samsung looking like "copycat". LINK

In Finland much of the media covering the mobile space is dominated by Nokia news. To date I must've read a hundred stories on Nokia's fall, the latest one just this week. As informative and accurate as these stories are, they don't convey the full picture of what's going on in the battle between the giants over dominance over the smartphones game. There is much more to the situation than simply winning or losing, as no company is perfect. Also, I think that to most Finns, Nokia's greatest rival is still Apple and iOS, where as in reality the more formidable opponent, the one Nokia has to beat to rise to its former glory, has for very long been Samsung.

Helsingin Sanomat is the first magazine to write an in-depth article on Samsung, and leave Nokia only to the margins. Naturally this new interest in Samsung was flared after news of Apple gained a significant win over Samsung in US court. Its surprising how unknown Samsung is in Finland given the realities of the situation. The article is aware of this and is quick to point out, that we might know Steve Jobs, but do we know who Lee Kun-Hee is?

The article starts off by delving into the lawsuit, and Sami Paihonen is quick to point out, that the verdict of the jury wasn't a big surprise to him. Imitation is deep in the Korean corporate culture, where the strategy seems to be to imitate the competition, grow like this until you're as big as them, and then top them in their own game. Samsung is a prime example of following this principle according to the article. If imitation is a prime modus operandi, what happens to innovation?

Paihonen says, that during his employment in Samsung's designcentre 2008-2010, he tried to bring innovation to the table, but found his efforts constantly turned down "upstairs". As an example he mentions a project where his team developed a way to zoom into content, such as pictures and webpages, using only one finger. To me, this sounds like a better way to do it, as many appreciate it if they can use their mobiles using only one hand. The team's idea was, however turned down and Samsung decided to go with "pinch to zoom" which we all know originates from Apple products.

Nokia's strengths have previously been, that they could efficiently produce phones on their own plants under tight control and little dependency. Samsung shares this strength, as the Korean giant manufactures a lot of home appliances to cruise ships and skyscrapers. Even Apple is totally dependent on Samsung's deliveries, despite of the feuds in court. This combined with Samsung's work culture, ie. the longest days and hardest execs to whip the most out of their employees makes Samsung an object of adoration in its homeland. Samsung doesn't have a workers union, which speaks volumes of the company's inner workings if you ask me.

To wrap it all together, Helsingin Sanomat quotes Finnish consultant Christian Lindholm saying, that Samsung's a great soap salesman. The product gets the job done and sells in volumes, but lacks the attractability of premium perfumes that have the consumer going gaga over, and paying top dollar for. Although Samsung's Galaxy S lineup has been immensely successful, they still don't have a succulent premium product that everyone wants a piece of, such as Apple has its iPhone. I came to this conclusion as well in my Galaxy S2 review.

To contrast what the article is saying into recent news from the mobile space, the Ativ S from Samsung has gathered a decent amount of attention, but shone a somewhat negative light on its elder brother, the Samsung Galaxy S3. Bloggers have deemed the Galaxy S3 as a rather plain looking phone compared to the Ativ S, the giant's first smartphone running Windows Phone 8. People criticizing the way Samsung's top-end phones look was largely unheard of until this time. With Nokia's announcements in their Lumia line-up might place even more pressure on Samsung to deliver good looking devices, as Nokia's WP7 phones are renowned for their physical appeal. So in this sense, I think we've very recently been served many a good example of Samsung's devices lack physical attractiveness and uniqueness.

Original article by Helsingin Sanomat
Written by Anssi Miettinen
Published 2.9.2012.
Those with access to HS Verkkolehti, direct link to article here.

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