Thursday, March 14, 2013

Did Samsung Jump the Shark w/ the new Galaxy S4?

The new Samsung Galaxy S4 has finally been unveiled and along with the phone, it also reveals how hard Samsung is trying to be different. 

Breaking free from Android
The free OS is an effective way for them to sell phones but its also a burden as the Galaxy brand is popular because of Android software & Samsung's hardware.  The S3 is the best selling Android phone because of the hardware & distribution channels, not any Samsung-specific features. They are struggling to add value beyond their hardware.   

They don't want you to buy the Galaxy S4 because its the best Android phone, they want you to buy it for its Samsung-only features. There's no value in building commodity hardware.

All the wild features they conjured up, such as the Air Gestures, Air View, and varied camera options, was done to differentiate from Android.

It doesn't work - just as it didn't work for HTC or LG either.  Consumers don't care for them, they are smarter than that.  Did you ever find yourself in the scenarios below?

Samsung Galaxy S4 Air View
Did you want your phone to automagically pause a movie playback when you looked away? 
The Galaxy S4 can do that.

Did you want to scroll through a page by hovering your finger a few millimeters over the screen rather than taking the effort to actually touch the screen and swipe?
The Galaxy S4 lets you do that.

Ever felt the need to take photos from both the front & rear camera simultaneously for a picture-in-picture effect?
The Galaxy S4 satisfies that need.

What's more useful to you? An innovation like Google Now or the features above?

Structural Challenges
This focus on software imply a structural change in Samsung's approach. They want to emulate Apple's famed ability to connect with the consumer and deliver a symbiotic hardware-software combination that brings the human interactions to the fore.

Unfortunately, letting users hover their finger over the screen to scroll does not cut it.

Samsung has dominated the Android scene because of their ability to manufacture & distribute class-leading hardware with high margins not because they understand the user's needs. These gimmicks heralded as innovations in the S4 indicate how much more Samsung has to invest in understanding how users interact with hardware.

The farther they stray from their strengths, the more opportunity they give Google to gain ground with their Nexus line of smartphones. Google understands users and they can massage Android to do things that Samsung can't even contemplate.

Ultimately, who do you trust when it comes to the software on your phone: Google or Samsung?

Monday, January 28, 2013

RIM's Retail Adventure with BlackBerry 10

BlackBerry 10 is just around the corner and industry analysts, BlackBerry fans, and the media are all fawning over RIM's achievements.  The media has done a great job covering BB10 & its unique interface, RIM's success in attracting developers, and the company's overall turn-around in outreach.

One thing that hasn't been discussed is RIM's retail strategy for BB10. It's surprising since this is absolutely crucial for BlackBerry 10's mass market acceptance. As much as RIM executes on its PR strategy, its the actual salespeople interacting with consumers who will have the most effect on making the sale.

This is especially important for BlackBerry 10, not only because of the challenges of negative brand equity in North America but also due to BB10's unique gesture-based interface. It's not obvious and no amount of TV commercials or tech blog articles will educate Suzy in Idaho who wants to get a new smartphone when her cellphone contract is up for renewal. You need someone trained in BB10 to explain to the average person how to use the smartphone. It's the only way they'll make a sale.

Historically, RIM has avoided retail. For their smartphones, they have always depended upon the carriers & their sales staff to close the deal. This worked great until the iPhone came along and the slew of feature-rich Android's that followed. The sales staff (justifiably so) would recommend the iPhone or Android's, after all, its what they use themselves.

When the Playbook was launched, it was up to RIM to take control of the sales process - and they failed miserably. In retail stores like Best Buy or Staples, the Playbook display units were never staged correctly, from not being connected to the store's WiFi to not even powered on because the battery was drained and the tablet wasn't plugged in! It wasn't a case of store incompetence as other tablets were staged correctly. The sales staff were also not educated on the multi-tasking power of the Playbook or its desktop-capable browser.

With BlackBerry 10, this needs to change. The phones need to be staged correctly across all retail channels (carrier-branded stores, big box stores, etc...) and the sales staff need to be trained on every aspect of BB10. I'm not talking about watching slide decks either, they need to get some hands-on time with BB10 before they try to sell it to consumers. Ideally, in major markets, RIM would have its own staff in retail stores interacting with the consumers. Apart from selling the phones correctly, they would get invaluable customer feedback for BB 10.1.

At this point, the most ardent BlackBerry fans will point to Asia, where RIM has BlackBerry stores ran by 3rd party retailers. That's great and all, but RIM needs to convince North America on BB10.

Positive press helps and so does a Superbowl ad, but nothing helps more than a person telling you how awesome the BB10 is while its in your hand.