Samsung Is In It To Win It
Anyone who’s followed the mobile tech landscape for the past few weeks could be forgiven for having a little Galaxy S III fatigue. The phone’s been covered more extensively than any other device in recent memory; HTC’s One line, while quite the popular suite of devices, didn’t garner quite this much attention during its time in the limelight. Even the last iPhone didn’t enjoy this level of buzz- in fact, so elevated were the expectations for that device that I read more negative press than positive following its announcement. The Galaxy S III, though, has been dominating headlines for weeks.
So if you’re feeling a little burned out, it’s understandable.
But we’re not done covering the Galaxy S III. The device just saw its US release; we just reviewed the Sprint version, and we’re planning on doing so for as many carrier variants as possible. The saturation of SGS3 coverage means two things: first, that the device packs enough features to warrant such a press explosion, and second, that Samsung’s strategy is working.
Designing competent, or even amazing, products isn’t enough. Palm proved that in spectacular fashion. Manufacturers also need to manage expectations and market their products accordingly. Before any retail salesperson lays a hand on the device, an OEM needs to have done the ground work to ensure the product is known -and desired- by consumers. To do that takes intelligence and an intense hunger, which the aforementioned Palm had in spades … but it also takes scale. Palm didn’t have scale, but Samsung does. And Samsung aims to take the U.S. by storm. With the Galaxy S III, Samsung is playing to win.
That’s what I realized at the press event in NYC a couple weeks ago, the Galaxy S III’s coming-out party. I’ve been referencing the occasion in editorial after editorial, and I’ve often wished I could link to a story written just on the event itself. The thing is, I’ve always known the launch party was worth a piece of its own, but until now I couldn’t put my finger on why. Now I realize it was the atmosphere. The electric confidence in the air. The Samsung event was a pool of energy that said “we’re winning.”
This isn’t about how the press and media and bloggers were treated, or anything like that: obviously Samsung was pulling out all the stops to make everyone comfortable, and there was a lot of hands-on time with the devices and product demonstrations and all of the usual fare. This isn’t about that; it’s about the people at Samsung. The humans behind the phone “designed for humans.”
Over the course of two days, I spoke with members of the design team that built the Galaxy S III, and with the team in charge of marketing the phone. I talked with people who’d been attached to the product from the earliest stages of its development, who’d worked on the Note and the Galaxy S II. In that time, I got a pretty good glimpse of the people behind the product.
It was the same feeling I got after touring the network enhancements to TD Garden in Boston, the AT&T press tour that showed us how a wireless company covers 19,000 people under one roof. After that tour, something changed in my perception as a user. Suddenly, this nebulous entity, this corporation called “AT&T,” the subject of years of bitter complaints about network quality and price plans, had a face. I could see the humans behind those decisions and products. I could sense their pride in their work, their reflexive defensiveness when asked about AT&T’s shortcomings, and their confidence that customers would appreciate their new efforts.
And that’s just what happened in New York City, as well. A few of us got into a discussion with the Samsung folks about the relative merits of plastic versus metal, about user interface design, and we even elicited a knowing grin and a “feedback noted” comment from someone who agreed that maybe the SGS3’s settings menu could use an overhaul. When they didn’t agree with a complaint or a concern of ours, the Samsung folks defended their product – sometimes vehemently, but always respectfully. The care and the investment they’d put into the device was obvious, and frankly surprising.
From my background in the non-office-centric world, the common perception about working at a massive corporation is that it’s a lot of grey, fluorescent-lit cubicle farms staffed by soulless people who don’t care about their job. And I’m not saying that’s the case at most companies, but it’s also not a complete falsehood; I’ve seen it myself in other settings. But not here. That’s not who these designers and managers were. These were passionate, invested, creative people who were really proud of the product they were bringing to the market. Getting to meet them, and seeing that enthusiasm up close, was eye-opening.
If that was my only take-away, it wouldn’t be worth writing about. A handful of enthused employees does not a compelling tale make. But the thing is, that energetic investment was reflected in the atmosphere of the entire event. It wasn’t just the people I met who exhibited it; it was everyone. Most of the people working for or with Samsung were infused with the same sense of confident purpose. Not just the notion that “this launch is a big deal,” but more like “this product is the start of a new chapter.” Despite the “III” suffix tacked onto the product’s name, this new Galaxy S launch almost felt like the dawning of a new age for the company. It was Samsung’s first flagship launch as the number-one seller of mobile phones in the world, and it showcased a sharper focus on the U.S. market than ever before.
I like Samsung; as I mentioned in my Sprint Galaxy S III review, the company built the first mobile phone I ever bought, and for a long time, I favored it over most other OEMs. But over the years I’ve started questioning how much I believe in its ability to make compelling products that stand on their own. Along with many people in the tech press, I’ve gotten bogged down in arguments about how much inspiration Samsung takes from other companies. And I’ve been frustrated by its insistence on painting Android with a TouchWiz brush that, until recently, made most things worse.
Today, the Galaxy S III itself has done a lot to soothe those frustrations. But more important is the energy behind that product: the renewed commitment and almost-tangible passion Samsung has demonstrated in its latest push into the U.S. market. The company isn’t off the hook, by any means; there’s plenty I still don’t like about the Galaxy S III and its other products. But after my NYC experience, I’m more confident than ever that, barring too much patent unpleasantness, Samsung’s future in the American technology market is a bright one.