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

Last week's Samsung Developer Conference was a sad affair: Droning executives with little meaningful to say doubled the keynote session's anticipated length, throwing the day's schedule into disarray. Worse, the substance of the sessions was pretty light, essentially a survey of the company's various SDKs and a nod to the few changes in their latest versions. It had the air of one of those big-company events intended to make its execs feel important, not to actually matter to the attendees. I've been to plenty of those in my career, and they usually foreshadow failure. Think Sony or BlackBerry.

But as disorganized, undisciplined, and low-substance as the Samsung developer event was, one thing was very clear: Samsung intends to be Apple, with a proprietary ecosystem of devices -- refrigerators, cameras, TVs, DVD players, MP3 players, smartphones, tablets, monitors, and computers -- tied together with common services and APIs.

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It's very much copying Apple's strategy, except that Samsung has kitchen appliances, cameras, and TVs, too. Microsoft is lumbering in the same direction as it tries to be more than a software company, as is Google, but Samsung already has most of the pieces in its vast empire to compete with Apple at the same scale and scope. Samsung also says it will spend real money to make this happen.

The real question is whether Samsung can actually deliver.

Despite its vast resources, Samsung has not yet made good on the integrated experience that Apple does. Samsung's software tends to be unfinished and poorly integrated, as Galaxy S 4 smartphone, Galaxy Gear smart watch, and Smart TV owners have sadly discovered. It does dumb things like orphan technologies into expensive devices; its 2012 Smart TV models, for example, can't be upgraded to do what the 2013 models can, and very few people replace a TV even every few years. Its much-ballyhooed Knox security technology isn't off the ground either.

Samsung has the resources and the ambition. It creates the chips that run Apple's iPads and iPhones, LCD screens for many companies, and all sorts of other components. It makes lots and lots of finished consumer electronics goods as well. It's developed extensions to Android for its own technologies, including pen-based input with handwriting recognition, multiwindow app interaction, and data sharing across devices for remote control and data transfer. I would expect at some point Samsung would stop merely issuing chips for others and start designing its own as well, à la Apple.

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