The Yin and Yang of the Galaxy Fold

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Many Apple fans are enjoying sitting back and watching Samsung squirm their way through a disastrous product launch…again. You can’t excuse the sloppiness of the Galaxy Fold and how rushed it was in the race to be first to market. An attempt to be innovative isn’t enough to cover up the hardware failures and suspect design.

All that said, while it is easy to make fun of “the enemy” when they fail, that really doesn’t accomplish anything productive. No more so than when fans of Samsung’s products throw stones at Apple for playing it safe or for iterating on or polishing up existing features. In truth, there is good and bad to both company’s approaches.

First isn’t always best

Samsung was the first to announce a foldable phone and, despite their recent setbacks, they will likely still be the first to release one. That is a testament to the fact that they continue to be driven by the pursuit of novelty. Sometimes that chase leads to an abundance of useless fluff, but it has also lead to some groundbreaking developments that have affected the entire smartphone industry.

Samsung has built their reputation on being seen as innovators, but that is also a bit of a double-edged sword. That rep comes with a price that can never be completely paid off. You have to keep on innovating and getting there first or that reputation quickly fades. When that mentality is taken to the extreme without enough caution, you can end up with mistakes and issues like the Note 7 and now the Galaxy Fold.

The flip side of first

However, there is a positive side to Samsung’s drive to constantly push technology forward that many of our Apple brethren overlook. Their move to larger and larger screens captured an under-served part of the market and influenced the majority of smartphones sold over the last four years. People laughed at the first Galaxy Note, but guess what- they were right. If you like your larger screen iPhone, and I certainly do, then you have Samsung to thank in large part.

Larger screens aren’t the only area where Samsung blazed a trail that others later followed. You can definitely thank them for their push to perfect OLED screen technology, which has also made its way to the iPhone. The same can also be said for curved screens, which initially looked like they had absolutely no legitimate purpose. Oh, but they did. Samsung got the tech to market first (but in a much more polished and well-built form than the Galaxy Fold) and figured out the best use of it later.

There is no doubt that Samsung has had a couple of really high profile failures in recent years. However, the success and reputation they have built also show the value of that aggressive push to find the next big thing. While I don’t think its good to let them off the hook when they screw up just because they tried, throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn’t the answer, either. The Apple community would be wise to recognize that there is a lot value in the approach to push new technology forward. The results speak from themselves.

A necessary counterpoint

Don’t go thinking I’ve switched sides. I still personally prefer Apple’s approach of trying to polish and perfect technology. Their record of success is even more impressive and longer running than Samsung’s. The original iPod and iPhone are both obvious examples. The iPad is another. The Apple Watch is a more recent example of Apple not being first in a new category, but quickly becoming the best by leaps and bounds. Want more? AirPods anyone?

But you can’t win them all

So Apple’s way is naturally better, right? Not necessarily. For all their success, Cupertino’s home team isn’t batting a thousand, either. While waiting, perfecting and polishing works for them most of the time, it isn’t a foolproof philosophy. Apple waited (and waited and waited and waited) before releasing the HomePod. Rather than releasing a product that was more polished, they just ended up way behind the competition.

The HomePod isn’t Apple’s only such gaffe. The Apple TV is a little different in that the second-gen version was ahead of the market curve for streaming video devices. However, Apple sat around so long that they let the competition catch them, pass them and lap them a few times before rolling out a mediocre upgrade.

More recently we can look at Apple’s failure to launch the AirPower charging pad as an example of the company waiting and still not getting it right. At least in this case they had the wisdom to shelve a product, rather than release something that wasn’t up to par.

There’s more than one way to innovate

So what’s the point of all this? The fact is, neither of these approaches, Samsung with their speed to market and Apple with their restraint, is inherently superior to the other. Success is all about the combination of execution and circumstance. While we as individuals will be drawn to one approach or the other based on our own preferences, neither can claim clear superiority over the other. The fact is, it’s good for us as consumers to have two large companies fighting over us using these two very different approaches to product development.

As for the high profile failures of both companies, they just prove that neither approach is a cure for human fallibility. Neither can overcome hubris. Samsung’s missteps seem to stem from rushing to market, while Apple has a habit of doubling down on poor design decisions, rather than cutting their losses and redesigning something. Can anyone say Butterfly Keyboard? Despite the differences in how mistakes are made, neither company is immune to them.

Fans of both Apple and Samsung would do well to remember the successes and failures of both companies. I’m not above taking a few good-natured jabs at the competition when they step in it, but at the same time, I also realize that it’s good for Apple to have Samsung pulling them forward. It’s good for Samsung to have Apple picking their spots and pushing them from behind. If you are a tech fan, it’s good for us to have both.


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