Samsung's Copier is Broken
Hidden between the child actors, smarmy stage-patter, and fourth-wall demolition in Samsung’s Galaxy S4 presentation was an idea that should disturb Apple fans: Samsung’s not copying Apple. Not because the S4 has a larger, denser screen than the iPhone 5, a very fast processor, and 2GB of RAM — those features should help the S4 succeed, but there’s nothing disturbing about the iPhone getting another worthy competitor. The bad news is that nobody, including Samsung, has learned from Apple how to deliver finished products.
Samsung actually introduced interesting and technologically advanced features that they hope will lend their devices consumer appeal and increased usefulness. Eye tracking while viewing videos and/or checking out gardeners aside, many of the other features were genuinely worth taking a look at. And there were lots of them. Gloved hand operation, “air gestures,” simultaneous synced video capture from dual cameras, S Translate, adaptive sound EQ and color balance based on environmental sensors,
Google Wave for Android ChatOn, screen and speaker sharing among S4 devices, and a myriad of other features and apps.
Samsung’s marketing department has produced amazing cartoon demos of the new features. Some of these features look OK, though I’m skeptical about how well they’ll actually work. It’s even possible that one of them will become a standard feature of smart phones in the next few years—air gestures seem like a good idea in some situations. It would be silly to judge these features without using them first. Some of them are going to be lousy, and that’s fine. The problem is that I don’t think Samsung cares that some of these features are going to be lousy. If companies are going to copy Apple, I hope some of them start copying Apple’s philosophy rather than their products.
✍ Ben: The ‘throw it out there and see if it sticks’ philosophy is often followed by Google and others in the software world. It leads to a lot of products that gain a following but are then killed because the parent company can’t figure out how to develop the product into a core technology (cf. the Google Reader announcement).
The philosophy of Apple product development has been discussed over and over again, but here’s my take on it. Make very few products. Make sure those products are useful and are amazingly well designed. Don’t design products based on a feature checklist, and don’t ship ultra cutting-edge technology that impinges upon the user experience or is extraneous to your core users. In short, make high quality products that are simple, evolutionary, and bring together software and hardware in a way that is usable by people.