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BLOG: How Samsung changed the smartphone game

Zafar Anjum | April 16, 2013
Or how Apple lost control of the narrative and let others define its story.

Samsung Galaxy Note

Recently, one of my friends lost his iPhone 4. His initial reaction was of course a choice expletive at the loss, as is the natural human tendency in such situations. But then he was happy too-it gave him the opportunity to buy the latest Samsung smartphone that he had been eyeing for a while. Good riddance, he said, when he wrote to his friends for their contacts, informing them that he was ditching Apple for Samsung.

Mind the 'loss' here. It was accidental, so it absolved my friend of any pangs of guilt at his betrayal.

A common friend chimed in over e-mail. Good move, she said. She loved her Samsung device that was challenging the once mighty iPhone.

A few days later, I met an executive at an industry event in Singapore and she was singing praises of Samsung's devices. Looking at my iPhone, she said that it was good for personal use but she preferred the Samsung device for her work. Maybe she was being polite and did not want to sound too effusive about her favourite product.

On the street, on trains and buses, I increasingly see a good number of people using non-iPhone smartphones (and I am not talking about Blackberry's here).

How did this happen?

How did Samsung turn the tables on Apple? How did an imitator beat the original? And what did it mean? That people didn't care about originality any more? That they had given enough business to Apple for being the inventor of the smartphone and now the best guys in the market should win? Would this happen if Steve Jobs had been alive?

I had many questions on my mind.

The power of the extrovert

For a long time, Apple's greatest advantage perhaps was its cool factor, and that came from its being mysterious and exclusive (its so called 'cult' status). But when every Tom, Dick and Harry began to carry the iPhone in town, the cool factor was diminished. Like what happened to the stardom of matinee idols when television brought them to people's drawing rooms. They were not the demigods that they once were.

Meanwhile, Samsung bombarded the market relentlessly with innovative devices, often taking a leaf out of Apple's book (though Apple would challenge many of Samsung's phone features that it claimed violated its patents). I don't think consumers cared much about the Samsung-Apple patents war. If people cared about copyright and patents and really valued them, there wouldn't be the kind of rampant piracy of films and other copyrighted content that we see in everyday life.


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