Samsung Beating Apple in the Innovation Game
Historically, I’ve been a huge fan of Apple. They have a track record of making quality products and articulating a clear corporate philosophy. After being inspired by all the things Steve Jobs did to build his company and change the perspective of the world, I’ve come to believe that, at the moment, the company is taking its eye off the ball.
The launch of Apple 6s Smart Battery Case is one good example. It illustrates a host of decisions that were not just bad, but outright wrong:
- A Band-Aid solution: This case offers a superficial solution to battery life without fixing the core problem. I predict that the rest of the organization is going to blindly move away from high product standards of the past and we are going to see a lot more of such Band-Aid solutions coming from Apple in the future.
- SKU proliferation: This new product encourages SKU proliferation in a time when every organization agrees that creating too many products is problematic. As soon as Meg Whitman took over the CEO of Hewlett Packard, she tackled SKU proliferation citing the resulting exhaustive, cumbersome, and difficult to manage product line. At Apple, this battery case creates yet another SKU for the Apple supply chain to manage. I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs would not have approved of this “easy fix” that will have huge impact on the back end of the product life cycle. The supply chain machinery will need to accommodate this product by creating new or extending existing supplier relationships needs to accommodate this SKU, which means create or extend supplier relationships, source different components, forecast demand, maintain inventory, and execute a whole slew of manufacturing, distribution, and value added services.
- Form over function: With this new case, form has overtaken function at the cost of user experience. Admittedly, beauty helps establish an emotional connection with the consumer. When people see Apple products, they want to touch and feel them. Smooth, shiny, polished. Beauty opens the door, but the product still needs to deliver. Once a product delivers on the beauty of the design, you have created a great customer experience that wins in the long run. Beauty without capabilities, though, won’t sustain an organization for the long term.
- Acknowledgement of the problem: Apple acknowledged the iPhones short battery life by creating a lousy solution. The wrong solution makes customers lose confidence over the leadership team of the vendor.
- Opportunity cost: Apple designers would have been better served to take the time spent creating the battery case by making the iPhone or another flag ship Apple product better or enhancing the organization’s core competency. Perhaps users would have accepted a slightly thicker, slightly more expensive product that delivered longer battery life. Adding another potentially breakable product on top gives the customer one more potential hassle. Users have reported to me a variety of problem: battery life that remains insufficient, cables that break, and performance glitches.
- Battery making is not a core competency for Apple: Battery making is not the core competency of Apple, there are plenty of other manufacturers that can do it and are already doing it, it doesn’t make any sense for Apple to venture into this business, when others are doing a good job already.
When Apple launched the iPhone, Motorola, HTC, and Samsung released a flurry of competing options. In the end, my wife chose the iPhone, while I opted for the affordability of the HTC option from Taiwan. It had its limitations. The Android platform was primitive, and the keyboard didn’t support alpha characters. On the other hand, the iPhone 4S performed perfectly and without limitation. Eventually, I traded up for a Samsung Galaxy Note, which provided a differentiator from the iPhone with a screen big enough to view videos and delivered higher resolution.