Samsung emerges as Apple's chief rival in innovation

South Korean electronics giant is surprising source of breakthroughs in the me-too mobile market

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As I noted, Samsung did a poor UI design job with the Galaxy Note -- a common disappointment among most electronics manufacturers. Unlike Apple, Samsung may maintain its innovation focus on the hardware end. If so, that's just peachy.

The real question is whether Samsung can sustain a commitment to innovation, where failure is part of the price to be paid and there's a risk of lacking disciplined vision (like Apple has) and instead throwing out one disconnected fantasy after the other (like Microsoft has in its Windows and Office UIs).

I've seen tech giants come and go when it comes to innovation. Acer, Motorola, and Sony are three prime examples of companies that talked innovation, but after no quick victories, retreated to making pretty cases, despite delivering on a couple of counts (the Sony Walkman and Motorola StarTac and Razr). Dell and Hewlett-Packard have also largely moved into "pretty case" mode, but that's because they've largely stopped caring about consumer products.

HTC was an early innovator in the Android market -- its Droid Eris had a nice UI that overcame the then-curent Android's poor interface. But HTC soon stalled, ceding the Android leadership to Google and, later, to Samsung and Motorola Mobility. HTC is trying again this year with a virtualized smartphone concept, but who knows how long that effort will last.

I hope Samsung doesn't follow a similar pattern. Apple doesn't have all the answers, and its solutions don't work for everyone. Plus, the notion of an Apple innovation monopoly is as scary as any monopoly.

It helps that Samsung is big and ambitious. The fact that Samsung produces Android, Windows Phone, and Bada smartphones gives it multiple platforms for experimentation -- and spread the costs of innovation. It helps that before the iPhone era, Samsung's home base of South Korea was for many years one of the hotbeds of mobile innovation. It'd be great to see it become one again.

This article, "Samsung emerges as Apple's chief rival in innovation," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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