Samsung stumbled last week in a sexist Broadway style product introduction that revealed the mobile king's limitations.
While reviewers listed the gee-whiz features of the latest Galaxy phone, the Associated Press summed up many by concluding, "the phone has a grab bag of features that don't come together as a pleasing whole." Slate was more direct: "Samsung Unveils New Phone Packed With Inane Features You'll Never Use."
How quickly the international technology tides shift. Samsung's long hyped mobile phone juggernaut, driven by solid technology, low prices, Apple mimicry, Google's generosity, and a bloated advertising campaign suddenly looks vulnerable.
This was the mega Galaxy introduction that was going to devastate the Apple orchard. Pundits have been shouting for months that Samsung was beating Apple at the Innovation Game.
Instead, Samsung is starting to resemble Microsoft, unable to distinguish between feature creep and genuine innovation. "It's more like Samsung is throwing a bunch of technologies into the phone to see what sticks," wrote the Associated Press. Added Slate: "a cautionary tale about what happens when you confuse gimmicky with innovation."
After several months in which Apple's stock swooned and the experts declared Apple's innovation train exhausted, the larger reality is emerging. Sure, Samsung has sold hundreds of millions of phones and ridden the popular wave of Google's Android OS, but when the time came to prove it could impress without imitating Apple, the company fell short.
Innovation is hard to do. Design is hard to do. So far, no one in tech has done innovation and design better than Apple. As the co-author of The Art of Innovation and Ten Faces of Innovation, I believe that experts regularly underestimate the difficulty of fully integrating superior design and innovation into a product or business. Hewlett Packard, Blackberry and Dell have all suffered from this failing. You don't just slap on innovation. Great design rises beyond industrial design to a deeper customer experience.
Samsung's increasing arrogance will not win it loyal customers. The sexism and bad taste on display at Samsung's grossly overdone NY introduction hints of another problem for the Korean company. Now that Samsung has grown into a Goliath its warts are in plain view.
You don't give half the planet strong reasons to hate your company. You don't trash partners on the eve of your introduction: "Smartphones and tablets based on Microsoft's Windows operating system aren't selling very well," Samsung Co-CEO J.K. Shin told the Wall Street Journal. You don't conspicuously choose to ignore or thank Google during the product introduction, without whose Android operating system you wouldn't be a major mobile phone vendor.
Success is hard to handle with humility, but Samsung seems bent on a crash course with hubris.
The story line will change. Many of those analysts who declared Samsung invincible will reverse course in the coming months. We will hear about the depth of Apple's orchard, from tablets and laptops to phones. We will hear about the advantages of controlling every nuance of a digital experience, from hardware to operating system and apps. We will hear about Google's growing rift with Samsung, and the increasing isolation of the Korean Goliath.
Remember all the tough New York Times investigative pieces in the past year attacking Apple? Strangely, American journalists have given Samsung the kid gloves treatment. Sooner or later a major U.S. publication will have the guts to publish a tough article about Samsung, and risk losing some of the more than 400 million a year the South Korean giant doles out on advertising in the U.S.
Samsung, like Apple, is no saint. But the most important thing we will hear in the coming months is a deeper understanding of what it takes to lead in the mercurial world of technology. In a few months, Apple is likely to introduce new phones, and perhaps by the end of the year, an iWatch, and maybe a television.
Innovation and design are hard to do. It's true that Samsung is opening a design studio in San Francisco, but it's also true that since the early 1990's Samsung designers have engaged in a cultural exchange with IDEO, living in Palo Alto and soaking up the wisdom of one of the world's leading innovation and design firms.
Last week Samsung whiffed with the whole world watching. Now it's Apple's turn at bat. Only a fool would count them out.
Jonathan Littman is the co-author of the Ten Faces of Innovation and founder of Snowball Narrative.