Posts tagged electronics
Posts tagged electronics
Before Apple versus Android there was Sony versus everyone else. Decades prior to Apple suing Samsung for copyright infringement, Apple was the one learning everything they could from Sony, from design to factory uniforms… and beyond.
We are now used to the idea that Apple offers the best product design, app store and mobile gaming on touchscreen devices. While the Cupertino powerhouse might sometimes lag behind high-end Android phones in the specs department (hello 720p and NFC), we can’t deny Apple’s commanding presence in the marketplace, from its passionate fan base to seemingly unbeatable design and usability.
Just like Sony in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
The Walter Isaacson bio on Steve Jobs tells us that Jobs was a huge fan of Sony. He went as far as trying to implement the uniforms policy seen in Sony’s factories back at Apple. Jobs recognized Sony as an engineering and design leader, the company to beat in consumer electronics. And he knew as far back as the mid-1980s that Apple’s future was not in personal computers but on consumer electronics. That’s the principle that dictated the design of both Apple II and, later on, the Macintosh. They were made to look like appliances – which explains the presence of oversized handles on both the Mac and the iMac G3.
The colorful iMac G3
Apple also witnessed Sony’s rise as video gaming giant. They saw the value of being in control of a single, far-reaching platform welcoming developers from all corners of the world. Sony was a trusted brand with a pedigree in electronics, which allowed it to leverage disruptive technologies like 3D-accelerated graphics and CD-ROM drives to dominate console gaming for a decade. Gaming was the last thing in Steve Jobs mind (Wozniak was the gamer after all) but he would soon realize how powerful gaming would be for the iPhone and, later on, the iPad.
Founded in 1946, Sony revolutionized three industries in a row: home video (the ill-fated Betamax VCR), music (the Walkman) and gaming (the PlayStation). Much like today’s Apple, Sony was lean, fiercely competitive, nimble and home for the best engineering in the world. Sony was “Master of the Analogue,” according to Sea-Jin Chang in Sony vs Samsung: The Inside Story of the Electronics Giants’ Battle For Global Supremacy.
Sony was able to develop and successfully market three waves of consumer electronics:
Betamax: while they lost the from a consumer point-of-view (and despite inventing home video recording as we know it), Betamax was a winner with professional users. Beta SP was the most popular format among broadcasters and production companies for decades.
Walkman: it was created on a whim, at the request of one of Sony’s founders. He wanted to be able to listen to music during long transcontinental flights and didn’t care for a built-in speaker like the ones found in transistor radios. The rest is history – the Walkman was the iPod of its generation.
PlayStation: launched in 1994 in Japan and 1995 elsewhere, Sony’s first game console forever changed the industry. While not analog by any means, the PlayStation’s high-end DSPs and audiophile-grade components owe their existence to Sony’s experience in the home. Fast three-dimensional graphics, a CD-ROM drive and low media costs allowed it to take the industry by storm and severely cripple Sega in the process.
The first Sony Walkman, model name TPS-L2
Sony was Steve Jobs’ role model for what a successful consumer electronics firm should be like. They believed in “betting the farm” on new technologies, investing millions in R&D and even moving ahead of the market if necessary (with the failed MiniDisc format). At the same time, Sony’s penchant for sci-fi-looking VCRs with menacing LEDs and an assortment of functions were clearly an example of misguided creativity. Sony VCRs were anything but simple; they were designed to impress consumers and mock VHS decks, not be friendly to the touch – or welcoming. Jobs would learn from Sony’s mistaken understanding of the need for complexity to revolutionize personal computing and, later on, smartphones and tablets.
A “simple” SuperBeta deck
Samsung Electronics is part of a huge conglomerate; South Korea’s largest, in fact.
Founded in 1969, Samsung Electronics built black-&-white TVs (it didn’t have the expertise to build color TVs), microwave ovens, air conditioning systems, etc. No “halo” products, no design/engineering masterpieces like a Sony Trinitron TV set or Walkman-like personal media device. In 1984, as VHS manufacturers were about to deal a final blow to Betamax (and almost 10 years after the introduction of home VCRs), Samsung finally launched its first VCR in the United States. However, due to quality issues it was often used as a loss leader.
An ancient portable TV set built by Samsung
The Korean behemoth was VERY strong on semiconductors, however. In the 1980s, the company decided to move towards developing and manufacturing DRAM modules for PCs. This move completely changed the game for Samsung; it now had a footing in the semiconductor business, which would explode in the 1990s thanks to Windows 95 and the Internet.
The move to digital devices, where SoCs (system-on-a-chip) replace sophisticated analog boards, took out Sony’s main competitive advantage, expertise in analog engineering, allowing Samsung to finally defeat long-time rival Sony.
Samsung versus Apple
Sony is a company in trouble. The latest financial numbers point to a Q2 loss of $1.6 billion. The only bright spots are the PlayStation division and mobile – which might also lose money next quarter due to the Ericsson buyout.
Apple learned from Sony and overtook it. Samsung is attempting to do the same to Apple. The battleground is smartphones, where Android manufacturers are now on a fight to the death with Apple over intellectual property. Samsung learned about the value of marketing, premium products and advanced product design from Apple. It embraced Android. It builds the beautiful AMOLED screens that power Galaxy class devices along with the A5 SoC found in both iPhone 4S AND iPad 2. Finally, Samsung has now overtaken Apple as the world’s top seller of smartphones with almost 30 million units shipped last quarter.
Apple knows Samsung’s goal is to dethrone it as the world’s most valuable company. After all, that’s what Apple did to Sony, even before its long-awaited “smart TV” is unveiled to the public. The iPod replaced the Walkman. Macbooks replaced VAIO laptops. The iPhone replaced Sony’s smartphones, PSPs and digital cameras/camcorders.
Apple and Samsung learned from the best – Sony – and are now on relatively equal footing on key areas: technology, marketing, market penetration. 2010 was a warm-up year for Samsung with the original Galaxy S. 2011 saw the first real gains, with the Galaxy S II taking the world by storm. The real battle will take place in 2012.
The Galaxy Nexus, Samsung’s not-so-secret weapon against the iPhone
Stay tuned — and make sure to share your thoughts in the comments :)