When Apple and Samsung fight, everyone wins

Both Samsung and Apple are victors, maintaining a strong focus now on quality while keeping an eye on what may be next

When Apple and Samsung fight, everyone wins
Pixabay (Creative Commons BY or BY-SA)

People love a fight, and the battles between Apple and Samsung have provided years of entertainment, from Apple's suit against Samsung claiming design theft to the constant back and forth in feature supremacy between Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy S and Note series.

With the excellent Galaxy Note 7 formally rolled out a few weeks ago and the rumored-to-death iPhone 7 to be announced next week, the battle-eager are at it again, as this Forbes post exemplifies. But it's a silly fight, because both companies have won -- and so have users.

The fact has been that the iPhone long ago set and evolved the standards for nearly all smartphone innovations that matter. No wonder Samsung and other Android makers (including Google on the operating system side) copied so much from the iPhone and iOS over the years: high-quality hardware, API-driven security, lock screens, reversible cables, fingerprint sensors, high-quality display, quality speaker sound, mobile payments, and wireless casting, to name a few.

Apple has also copied from competitors, including camera capabilities, NFC, Wi-Fi Direct, long-pressing, notifications display, the flat UI, and quick-access control bar, among others.

Everyone, take a bow.

A few years ago, when the pace of mobile innovation was slowing down, Samsung -- reverting to its original strategy of opportunistic, schlocky Android hardware -- made a series of boneheaded moves that really hurt. Its hardware quality went down (see: Galaxy S5), it made poor copies of some Apple technologies (such as a barely workable fingerprint scanner in it first version) and even of rumored Apple products (its clunky Gear smartwatch and its unusable big-screen tablet). By contrast, Apple focused on a steadier stream of (mostly software) innovations, such as Touch ID, Apple Pay, and Handoff.

But Apple had its own issues, mainly around hastily assembled services like Apple Maps (now much better) and Apple Music (a work in progress). Samsung quickly learned its lesson, coming out with the really good Galaxy S6 last year and the just-as-good Galaxy S7 and even better Galaxy Note 7 this year. Not that the iPhone 6 or 6s were slouches -- the iPhone 6 reenergized the iPhone market for a while, and the iPhone 6s is no less an upgrade to the iPhone 6 as the Galaxy S7 is to the Galaxy S6.

The fact is both Apple and Samsung are delivering the industry's top-quality mobile products, going for quality and premium price while everyone else is starving from razor-thin margins (at best). 

That's also true for security, where Apple and Samsung are the clear choices for any enterprise. Apple pioneered modern mobile security, displacing BlackBerry, but after several false starts, Samsung has made security for Android very real and very dependable. Their approaches differ in some respects, and you can argue until the cows come home whose is better, but in truth, both are excellent.

Apple is suffering from expectation fatigue, but it hasn't made desperate moves as a result. So it gets pummeled for a slow pace of innovation; that slow pace is real (as is obvious from the new Macs and iPads slated for this year).

Samsung currently has the advantage of appearing to be on a faster trajectory upward because it's recovering from its big stumbles of a few years ago. Apple hasn't had as many stumbles, so its recent trajectory seems flatter by comparison.

But if you look at both companies, they're basically in the same position. Samsung is dabbling in some new areas like virtual reality that Apple isn't, but Apple is moving forward with services like music that Samsung has abandoned for lack of success. You win a few and you lose a few around the edges.

Both companies face the same long-term issue: There are fewer and fewer breakthroughs to make with a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Apple's strategy is to move more into services and perhaps new product areas, from car tech to medical equipment. Samsung's strategy has focused on new hardware, because it's failed in services, but its hardware picks are sexier and more consumer-focused (like VR), which get more fans salivating in the blogosphere.

That difference makes sense. Apple is always a premium product provider, so niche and quality-valuing markets are a good fit. Samsung is a mass manufacturer of everything from refrigerators to TVs, at a wide range of price levels. Unlike most other Asian conglomerates, Samsung was smart to sustainably target the high end in those markets, not only the low and middle.

Apple and Samsung clearly challenge and motivate each other, but they all draw from and compete with other providers as well. Viewing them in the Apple-versus-Samsung lens is too limiting. It's unfair to both companies.

It's more interesting to see where and how both Apple and Samsung continue to win. There's more opportunity for them both yet to be exploited.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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