Can Samsung become Apple? Only if it executes well

The company has the resources and the consumer goodwill, but it also has struggled to get software and services right

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As the droning executives described last week, Samsung wants developers to write for Samsung devices in the same way they write for Apple devices: as a federated environment. The execs avoided mentioning Apple, but they were clear they wanted developers to think of Samsung not as a flavor of Android but as its own platform that happens to run on top of Android. To underscore the point, Samsung showed off iOS applications for services like its ChatOn messaging service and various media player apps. Message received: Android is merely a vehicle for Samsung.

Samsung is also working on a backup mobile OS called Tizen likely to enter the low-end market in 2014. The strong suggestion was that the consumer electronics APIs -- those that let you conduct a chat or visit a Web page as a screen overlay while watching TV, which Apple TV can't do -- would be available on Tizen, not just on Android and in Samsung's iOS apps.

As I said, the execs at the family-run giant have the ambition, and they're being quite public about it. More important, Samsung has the pieces to pull off becoming an Apple in an even broader ecosystem of devices.

Contrast that with Intel, which ignored the touch and mobile shifts and now finds itself orphaned and unable to break into the new ecosystem: Its Android ambitions continue to sputter, and its silly attempt to be a TV provider seems to be flaming out. Intel is even now poised to build the ARM chips that have outmaneuvered its x86 chips; although Intel is focused on high-end specialty modules of which ARM is just a part, that's a major concession in Intel's strategy.

However, it's not clear Samsung can execute. It's been playing with this ecosystem for a few years now, and it's not very good. Tizen has been delayed several times and remains just talk today. There's a slimy side to Samsung that could easily derail the company's focus; in fact, it's been guilty of corruption for years, with several high-level execs forced out even as the founding family retained tight control, furthering a culture of both cronyism and stubborn stick-to-itiveness.

I'm skeptical that Samsung can pull off its Apple ambitions. But I recognize that the Android platform it's riding is very popular, that Samsung has the resources, that the company's products are well liked by consumers, that Google and Microsoft keep showing how hapless they are in consumer electronics, that potential rivals like Dell and HTC are in disarray, and that Apple is showing signs of losing its grip on quality (the parade of bugs this fall in OS X Mavericks, iOS 7, Safari, and new Macs is a bad omen).

A lot of factors are working in Samsung's favor, both within Samsung and in the current business context. If it tackles its ambitions with the focus and precision of Steve Jobs' Apple, Samsung could become an Apple in its own right -- or even replace Apple. We should know in 2016 whether Samsung lives up to its talk or becomes another footnote in the history of arrogant corporate overreaching.

This article, "Can Samsung become Apple? Only if it executes well," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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