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  • What About Covering Samsung’s Failures?

    May 9th, 2014

    It almost seems as if an Apple executive cannot sneeze without the media reporting that the company is therefore doomed. From the earliest days, Apple's decision to go it alone has brought unending criticism from some quarters. I won't dwell on the history at length, but I will cover the highlights.

    So the Mac was originally just a pretty toy that was incapable of doing serious computing. Of course, the success of Windows with a derivative (or stolen) interface put the lie to that pronouncement.

    The iPod? Well, an overpriced "toy" (the "t" word yet again) that couldn't possibly catch on. But when Apple released iTunes for Windows, I suppose some changed their tune. Some. Even though dedicated digital media players are yesterday's news if not part of a smartphone or a tablet, the iPod has remained at the head of the pack in a diminishing market.

    You can't of course, imagine how severely Apple was criticized for daring to release a smartphone with a large screen (for 2007) and no physical keyboard, but we all know how that turned out.

    Yet despite what some believe, the iPhone was never, ever, the number one mobile handset on the planet. In introducing the iPhone in 2007, Steve Jobs famously said that Apple would be delighted to grab a one percent share by the end of 2008, but it obviously did a lot better.

    But Apple's critics want to cite Samsung's success in becoming the world's number one handset maker, supplanting such "pretenders" as Motorola and Nokia, both of whom occupied the top spot in years past.

    Now Samsung has received lots of coverage for its flagship models, such as the Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, and now the Galaxy S5. But each handset was seriously flawed in one way or another. The first two, boasting an AMOLED display, were near-invisible in sunlight. At least you could see something on the iPhone, though shaded surroundings were still best. The Galaxy S5's display, also AMOLED, is said to be better, and I'll accept that claim for the sake of argument without having given it extensive face time.

    But even Samsung must have had qualms about the latest and greatest model, since it was only rolled out at a mobile trade show rather than a special presentation at a separate dedicated media event. Reviews have been tepid. By and large, it's a decent product, thought the plastic case still says cheap in a way that the plastic iPhone 5c doesn't.

    The real problem with the Galaxy S5, though, is not the plastic case, but how well the most important features work in the real world. So there's that notorious fingerprint sensor that defies the ability of some of the top tech reviewers on the planet to operate successfully. I understand why Samsung wanted to have one, the better to compete with Apple, but didn't anyone at Samsung notice that the feature was almost fatally flawed? Anyone?

    Well, it's clear that Samsung might be listening to the critics after all, and not just because of the latest loss in an intellectual property trial against Apple. According to published reports, the head of the mobile design division, one Chang Dong-hoon, has been sacked. He's been replaced with a deputy, Lee Min-hyouk.

    Now Samsung tried to put this in the best light, claiming, "The realignment will enable Chang to focus more on his role as head of the Design Strategy Team, the company's corporate design center which is responsible for long-term design strategy across all of Samsung's businesses, including Mobile Communications."

    It sounds like he's being pushed upstairs into a position that may keep him from direct involvement in smartphones, though the decision seems to convey an opposite message. Maybe Samsung believes Chang will stay out of trouble that way and not deliver feature duds such as the fingerprint sensor and Smart Scroll.

    But nothing stops Samsung from trying to deceive. So ads for the Galaxy S5 are almost blatantly taking reviewer quotes out of context to make it seem as if the product received a better reception than it really did. This is little different from entertainment companies struggling to find a favorable quote in an otherwise unfavorable review of a new movie. Imagine, for example, saying that the cinematography was great, but ignoring the criticisms of bad acting, poor special effects, and inconsistent plotting.

    Regardless, with flat sales and flat profits, it's not as if Samsung has much to boast about. The larger share of sales is confined to low-end handsets, where profits are slim or nonexistent. Low prices may help move product in areas where Apple chooses not to compete, and it may put Samsungs in the hands of people who can't afford something better, but it's hardly anything worth shouting about.

    Meantime, the iPhone 5s, eight months after release, is still surprisingly successful. According to Canaccord Genuity, a firm analyzing the mobile phone industry, this "aging" mobile handset remains the top seller at the four major U.S. carriers.



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