Opinion

“Restless Innovation”: Why Samsung experiments on its high-end “Galaxies”

Samsung is the top Android OEM worldwide, and, like all important companies, receives its share of ridicule from critics. In years past, critics have labeled the Korean manufacturer one who “throws something against the wall to see what sticks,” referring to Samsung’s constant experimentation with its products.

Take the Note Edge, for example: some critics chide Samsung because the company emerged with a Note Edge last year, only to forgo a Note Edge 2 this year. “Why does Samsung do one thing this year and do something new the following year?” some say. To some consumers, the only way to behave as a tech company is to make a product, tweak it here and there (but not too much), and release a new one each year. Some in the tech field chided Samsung for its Galaxy S5; then, Samsung turns around and releases a Galaxy S6 edge – only to receive more criticism: “What’s the purpose of an edge on a smartphone?”

So, let’s put the question out there: “Why does Samsung experiment on its high-end ‘Galaxies’?” Why does Samsung experiment at all, when all consumers want is a great device, slightly tweaked, that looks good and runs good, has vanilla Android, and gives fast updates? Why even experiment with TouchWiz when Samsung should just “take cues from Motorola and leave the software experience to Google”?

The answer is simple: because, should Samsung fail to experiment, the Korean manufacturer would abrogate its role as a tech company. Tech is ever changing, and innovation only comes through change. Tech companies embrace the change and create breakthroughs in innovation with experimentation.

Think of the scientist: what does the scientist do? He experiments. Scientists adhere to what is known as the scientific method, by which they 1) make a hypothesis or assume a theory, and then 2) experiment and test out their working theory. No scientist finds himself or herself with a working theory in the first experiment.

What do chefs do? They cook. They are often known for their famous recipes, but those recipes don’t arrive without experimentation. Chefs often stumble onto an award-winning recipe through trial and error. The famous statement “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” assumes that making mistakes and continuing forward in the face of them is the key to success.

Cooking is a science of its own, as are art, music, and sports. Artists don’t learn how to draw or paint without making mistakes. Great musicians don’t rise to prominence without having missed a piano note in a recital once or twice in their careers. Sports athletes often endure a missed free throw in a college basketball game or the NBA before winning a championship ring three years down the line. Mistakes are the stepping stones by which we learn how to proceed in the things we do. Mistakes are how we grow as human beings. Those who never make mistakes never grow.

And the same can be said for tech companies. Those that focus on “getting it right” the first time never grow. Sure, they may make great smartphones and wearable tech. Sure, their tech may be well-designed, and may even net them billions of dollars. Sure, lots of consumers may even prefer the products of such a company over its competitors – but the company will never live up to its responsibility as a tech company. And any company that loses its reputation in innovation forfeits its respect as a tech company. If experimentation is key to innovation, and a company never experiments, it will never innovate.

So, when critics attack Samsung’s experimentation with its smartwatches, for example, they forget the circular Gear S2 exists because of Samsung’s other smartwatches (Galaxy Gear, Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, Gear S) and the lessons learned from those former ones. When they attack Samsung’s Note Edge, they do so, forgetting that it took the Note Edge to produce the stunning Galaxy S6 edge and S6 edge+ with Samsung’s Apps Edge (and the Galaxy Note 5 with its borrowed “edge” design on the device’s backside) that will provide additional functionality down the line.

When critics knock Samsung’s experimentation, they knock Samsung’s innovation. And to knock Samsung’s innovation is to take away the best products on the market – those we would never have experienced if Samsung wasn’t the “quirky” tech company we all know and love. Additionally, to knock Samsung’s innovation is to take away the progress of the market, since Samsung’s achievements have, in many ways, lifted the smartphone industry as we know it.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to Samsung:

Back in 2011, Samsung had found success with the first Galaxy S, so we were excited about the potential of the S2. But, we also felt that there were so many consumers out there that wanted a product that just didn’t exist. We were missing something big. And that’s what led to the first Galaxy Note. It was a breakthrough, not just for us, but for the entire industry. We faced some doubt and market skepticism (and that’s kind of an understatement); at the time, 3.5 and 4-inch phones dominated the market, but we summoned the courage. We believed in the Note. We knew there was demand for a bigger display, a larger canvas that made more possible. It turns out we were right. – Justin Dennison, Galaxy Unpacked 2015, 43:08-44:03

Just two years ago, at CES, we revealed a new concept: flexible display technology. We believed in that concept, so we bet big on an immersive screen that was beautiful and useful. And we have been so happy with the response from customers; they love the dual-edge experience. That’s how we stay ahead of the curve: we listen, we learn, and we take a risk. We push ourselves to be first and others join us. The technologies make life better; that’s true with the big breakthroughs, but it’s also true with steady worker progress. When we develop better cameras, higher-resolution screens, batteries that charge faster and last longer, that not only lifts Samsung; it propels the industry. –J.K. Shin, Galaxy Unpacked 2015, 37:11-38:22

I believe that Samsung has an important role to play in advancing technology in our daily lives. We push ourselves hard; we take a step forward and then another. And if we get there first, others will follow. That’s how we transform society for the better. That’s how we make life easier, simpler, and more productive. That’s what relentless innovation means: offering what’s next now. –J.K. Shin, 10:42-11:22, Mobile World Congress 2015

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