Samsung’s archfoe (It’s not Apple)
Assistant managing editor
Minutes after I heard the news of the death of Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder and the innovator in chief of our time, I texted a Samsung Electronics executive, daring him to call a unilateral truce to a patent war triggered by the late Jobs.
Instantly came an answer, which I found so typical of Samsung, telling me of a plan by Vice Chairman Choi Gee-sung to issue a message of condolence.
I was buried in my daily work load but found time to eulogize in private about the untimely death of one of the brightest minds of our age.
Then, it struck me like an apple dropping on the head of Isaac Newton (No pretensions. I know I am good but not that good).
That striking thought was about why Jobs made his battle cry against Samsung during his dying hours. Remember his declaration of “the year of copycats” targeting Samsung in public before he resigned as Apple’s CEO.
That thought was followed by a question: How Samsung could have such a late but fast start, coming up with Galaxy smartphones only six months after the debut of iPhones.
In contrast, Nokia, the pride of Finland and the global No. 1 mobile phone maker, is decimated for the one misstep in the smartphone business.
Few now see LG as Samsung’s rival because of its judgmental error and the subsequent failure to keep itself abreast with the rapidly changing trend.
Another question is about Samsung’s brand value that has increased by leaps and bounds, even while its dispute with Apple has grown bigger in scope and fierce in intensity.
Lets’ start with an answer about Jobs’ anti-Samsung invective.
Apparently, Jobs saw what even Samsung failed to see about itself ― Samsung’s strength that Apple doesn’t have ― and he wanted to ensure the wellbeing of his business empire after he’s gone.
After all, Samsung is just about the only technology firm that is going toe-to-toe and head-to-head with Apple in the range of products and their evolutionary path ― the Galaxy S for the iPhone and the Galaxy Tab for the iPad.
Other firms are trying to emulate the two but there is little chance for a third powerful player to emerge anytime soon.
Unlike Apple, Samsung makes its own components ― chips and displays ― as well as finished products. It is well known that Samsung is one of the biggest parts suppliers for Apple.
Some are tempted to think that Samsung’s all-in-one package will spell disaster in the making by compromising the efficiency of affiliates but the global giant has somehow managed to work the system to its advantage.
A small diversion is that if Apple is often touted as America’s only hope in the land of a slipping manufacturing base, it’s wrong because it buys all parts and assembles them, its business model being unable to address the country’s biggest problem ― jobs.
Although Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee talked down his firm’s soft power, chances are that he wanted to conceal its power base of thousands of developers across the globe from India and Central Asia, whose collective brain power is playing a key role in countering Jobs’ genius, which is backed by the U.S. scale of marketing economy.
A slew of bright minds who have the potential of Steve Jobs work for Samsung with the discipline of an army.
Being an army-like organization has its advantages and disadvantages. It can be mobilized with its power unleashed on one enemy but in the process run the risk of sacrificing individual creativity. The whole can fall short of the sum of individual components.
That is where Samsung can use its benefit in a bold proposal for a truce in the two’s patent war because it goes a long way to address Samsung’s two grave concerns.
Internally, it would be like a collective pat on the back for Samsung’s workforce, which will surely prove a morale booster and an agent of change to transform its modus operandi.
In other words, Samsung, just like the rest of Korea Inc., has been anxious to compete with rivals and win its goals with the fear of loss always in the back of its mind.
But, by having their achievement self-recognized, they would be afforded the luxury of confidence (hopefully not complacency) that will help take Samsung a notch higher up on the ladder of global standards in corporate behavior, boosting potential and creating grounds for further growth.
Samsung people are sometimes seen to act out inner pride in being Korea’s No. 1, but they should know that they now belong among the world’s best and are expected to behave accordingly.
Externally, and more importantly, this gesture of peace would spell a step to demystify the globally-accepted misconception that Koreans are economic animals like the Japanese before them.
It is true that Korea has undergone a compressed period of growth but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has given up all of its old proud tradition for material wealth.
This message can be effectively brought home; if Samsung offers an olive branch to Apple at its most difficult time with the death of its founder, it could be likened to rising up to the spirit of the Christmas truce in the First World War or that of funeral diplomacy.
This by no means signifies giving up the fight. It means putting things on hold, giving both parties a chance to try and find an amicable solution. In today’s highly complicated corporate world, it will not be easy to reverse a move in motion, thereby requiring Chairman Lee to intervene and put the dispute on ice for a while by overcoming a great deal of opposition by its legal team.
Even if the two sides fail to find an out-of-court solution, any effort will be worthwhile for Samsung in terms of its brand image. Sometimes, the party that offers peace is the stronger of the two.