Whether you love it or hate it, the Samsung Galaxy S4 has risen to iPhone like popularity in the Android world. The earliest S devices, and even TouchWiz itself bore such a striking resemblance to the fruit phone, that other company started suing Samsung. Indeed, Samsung has mimicked Apple and nearly everything that they do.
There’s one lesson from Apple that Samsung failed to pick up on: don’t ever admit that you screwed up.
I have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and my daughter uses a Galaxy S3. If there’s one complaint about Samsung devices that can’t be argued it’s that Samsung build quality is lacking. Screens that scratch too easily, plastic body parts that creak and crack and batteries that aren’t powerful enough to get the phone through an average users day are all legitimate complaints. I’ve endured both with my Nexus and my daughters S3.
All of these quality trade-offs are intended to help Samsung build as many devices as they can, as quickly as they can be slapped together for as little money as absolutely possible. That’s it. Weight, size and environmental impact aren’t the primary concern. Build them fast, build them for cheap and ship them as fast as you can. That’s the plan, or at least it was.
A Samsung insider has let slip that in its 5th iteration the Galaxy S will be a well built device, indeed, a first-of-its-kind device from Samsung. And that type of leak was the worst thing that Samsung could have let happen.
Let’s assume for a minute that indeed, the plan at Samsung is to make their flagship S5 their first device where competitors can’t mock them on build quality. How is it that there’s a Samsung “insider” out there talking about it? Samsung employees that are trusted with this kind of road-map knowledge aren’t fearful enough for their job security, they’re out letting future plans slip?
Apple has had their own hardware issues in the past, chief among them was antenna-gate with the iPhone 4. Did Apple let slip that there was, indeed a design flaw in the antenna? No, they blamed their hardware issues on user holding error. They paid off iPhone 4 owners with a $15 settlement check, but as they were mailing those checks out, they continued to insist that there wasn’t really an issue. iPhone 4 owners just didn’t know how to hold the most creative, innovative phone on the market.
If Apple had built the S4 to be a cheap, plasticy, crappy piece of hardware, they’d never admit that there were a problem. No insider would slip up and say “hey, don’t worry, the S5 will be a metal phone” for fear that if they did, they’d be unemployed. And likely sued for violating their NDA as a parting gift.
The message from Apple about the S4 would be that it is made from a new and innovative plastic that is good for the environment, uniquely invented for the S4. Designed to protect aluminum, which is a rare earth metal that is in dwindling supply. The S4 is a phone made for the environmentalist, and you should go hug a tree for daring to question the intent in building it from such a unique and innovative polymer.
Then Apple would hunt down the offender that leaked their future plans and ruin his or her career.
Whether this leak is real or not, Samsung is being hammered for the build quality of their devices. It’s OK when your customers are complaining, as long as they still line up to buy your next device. When your cheap phones are being used in the marketing message for your competitors devices, you have a real issue that needs to be addressed, because you’re losing control of the message for your own product.
HTC, LG, Sony and Motorola are all focusing on the quality of their devices, not just their user interface when differentiating their phones in a crowded Android field. The Galaxy S5 will almost assuredly be a much better device in terms of build quality, because another cheap phone with a huge marketing budget simply isn’t going to fly like it has in the past.
And it looks like someone in the Samsung inner circle of knowledge might have let slip that Samsung has gotten the message. Samsung devices are cheaply made, cheaply produced and sold at a premium price.
Samsung will build a better phone, but they’ll also need to hunt down the rat that told the buying world that the S4 sucks and make an example out of him for the all of the rest of their trusted employees to see. Keep your mouth shut needs to be the plan going forward.