Even Samsung’s executives recognize that it needs to be more than an industry follower.
Speaking at the company’s year-opening ceremony in South Korea today, Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee urged the company to give up on its old habits — mainly, its tendency to follow in the footsteps of other industry innovators — and start innovating on its own, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Specifically, Lee noted that Samsung must “get rid of business models and strategies from five, 10 years ago and hardware-focused ways.” Instead, he suggested that the company’s R&D centers work “around the clock, non-stop” to come up with truly new innovations.
Lee seems to be responding to a common criticism of Samsung. As I noted in my Galaxy Gear review (which is one of the clearest examples of why Samsung remains an industry follower):
It [Samsung] built LCD screens before it got into the smartphone market, as well as hard drives and RAM chips before it got into PCs. It learns the ins and outs of electronics markets by being a trusted supplier for bigger players, and once it has learned enough, it slowly makes its way in with its own products.
His comments come a day after Samsung’s market value dropped around $9 billion based on investor concerns that the company’s mobile growth will slow down this quarter. (Samsung saw a similar $12 billion market value hit last year when investors worried about slowing sales of the Galaxy S4.)
With the plethora of software features on its phones and tablets, it’s clear that Samsung is finally trying to differentiate itself in the software arena. But those features, which include things like eye-tracking and hand gestures, often end up feeling more gimmicky than truly useful.
While Lee’s comments show that Samsung is aware of its weaknesses, they also show that the company doesn’t have much of a clue how to fix the problem. Asking R&D staff to work 24/7 isn’t the key to out-innovating Apple or Google, it will likely just lead to a flurry of desperate software gimmicks like we’re already seeing in Samsung’s gadgets.