Samsung unveiled Galaxy Note Edge which is featuring a curved screen. It offers a new possibility that enable offer new ways to use smartphones. Yet, as many reporters have already pointed out, whether this “innovation” will succeed or not largely depends on software. That is, if there are enough third-party apps that take advantage of this new screen, it will become an essential feature that will be copied by other smartphone makers. However, if third-party developers ignore this, it will be largely forgotten and will be remembered as another gimmicky innovation by Samsung.
What would Apple have done in this case? They would have chosen one or two key apps that would perfectly fit with this new screen before today’s introduction. It would be perhaps something like Facebook status update or Twitter status update. And, it will not be done by Apple, but by Facebook or Twitter team. And, during the presentation, they would have shared the stage with Facebook or Twitter developer to show off the new app tightly integrated with the new screen. And, then they would say that the APIs and SDK are made available for all other unlucky developers who want to take advantage of this. Soon, many app developers are eager to incorporate this new feature into this their app. Other makes must find a way to introduce a third screen in their own smartphones. So, it becomes a dominant design, so to speak.
In today’s announcement, however Samsung did not line up any major software developers who are building their flagship app to take advantage of this new feature. It is left up to the developers in the future to decide whether they would take advantage of this new feature or not. Oh, by the way, this phone will not be available widely. It is a niche market phone. So, if you are a developer, why would you spend your valuable time and resources to build a feature for a phone that is only available for few markets? So, what is the point of introducing this innovation at all? If this is an innovation that might differentiate its phone in the market, why not double down with it and invite all major developers to your developers conference and encourage them to build new apps taking advantage of this new feature? Instead, this new feature will be most likely only working with Samsung’s own apps that most users do not use. Therefore, this new innovation is dead on arrival.
Every once in awhile, you get a chance to redefine the market. Potentially, this new form factor in hardware could have been such an opportunity. Such an opportunity is not to be discovered. They must be designed. Samsung fundamentally is a hardware company. In fact, it is a very good one. So, it must build its innovation strategy with an idea to build an ecosystem around its strength - that is, hardware, instead of envying the model of ecosystem around something that it does not have — namely software. The issue is how to create a locked-in user base based on unique user experiences. Of course, user experience will depend on third-party apps. Then, you need to send a clear and loud signal that you are committed to make this new hardware feature to succeed and ask and lead third-party developers to build apps that take advantage of this new feature. If you design your strategy right, you can in fact successfully execute your innovation strategy in such a way that you lock-up both developers and users using your own unique hardware features.
But unfortunately that did not happen today. So, my prediction is that this new Samsung Note Edge will be a phone that will be largely forgotten soon. The round screen will be remembered as one of those strange technology innovations that did not have clearly defined usage case. The sad part is that it did not have to be this way. It could have been that it is the feature that everyone was waiting for, except that no one knew that they needed it. In a way, that was what Steve Jobs did with touch screen keyboard, by making us somehow believe that software keyboard on a flat screen is better than physical keyboard.
As I am getting bored with a flat multi-touch screen, I was really hoping that Samsung would be able to present a compelling vision to build an ecosystem around its unique design. But it did not happen today. It seems that when it comes to mobile phone, Samsung’s design still focuses on hardware and hardware only. It still needs to learn how to build its own design strategy to build an ecosystem. At least, not yet.