Apple and Samsung's legal lottery

Both Apple and Samsung have plenty riding on the outcome of their patent fight and while jurors start their deliberations the result could be bad for both parties.

“It’s costly and has unpredictable consequences. That makes it a very bad business model. I suppose both companies have agendas that are not visible in court and perhaps Apple is signaling to other parties, and perhaps Samsung is using it to raise its profile. It still seems that unintended consequences may arise and the result could be very bad for everybody,’’ said Horace Dediu, founder of equity-research firm Asymco, in an e-mail interview with The Korea Times.

The above was a quote from the article  Samsung can’t afford to lose Apple fight by Yoo-chul Kim from The Korea Times. Yoo-chul contacted me via email with a series of questions. I want to share all his questions and my answers as well:

Samsung wides market gap with Apple, according to research firms. You think the gap will further be widened and please tell me why

As Samsung converts its phone portfolio to be all smartphones, it is very likely to reach much higher smartphone volumes. One year ago Samsung sold about 56 million feature phones. Last quarter it sold about 43 million. The smartphone portion increased from 20 million to 50 million. At the same time, Apple has maintained a growth in its smartphone business of about 100 per cent on a yearly basis. I expect that to continue into 2013 as well. Therefore it’s possible that Samsung could sell 290 million smartphones in the next 12 months and Apple could sell about 200 million in the same time frame.

However, it’s important to understand that the companies compete on different bases. What I mean is that what generates a profit (i.e. payment by the consumer above what a product costs) is different for each company. Apple is a platform company that sells access to the iOS ecosystem across many other device types. Samsung sells consumer electronics with limited “network effects” but desirable features. In this view, the gap in device sales is “asymmetric” and not reflective of the actual competition which is between Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS as forms of access.

Samsung’s rapid rises mainly due to the company’s heady dependence on Google Android. If Google applies better software for Motorola, then you think Samsung will face difficulties?

Think of Google as a supplier to Samsung. No manufacturer wants to have a situation where they are dependent on only one supplier, especially when there are huge substitution costs for another supplier. And even more especially if that supplier owns one of your competitors. However, it’s unlikely that Motorola will become a strong competitor to Samsung. I also don’t expect Google will damage their OEM “customers” by favouring Motorola. Motorola can’t become big enough quickly enough to be a threat to Samsung. What is more likely to be a problem for Samsung is ZTE and Huawei. They are on the same trajectory that Samsung was on 10 years ago. For Samsung to beat them in the future it will need to develop products that nobody can copy.

How about software? Samsung is good to roll out price competitive models, however, software is always problem. Any advice for this issue?

Software is hard and expertise can’t be quickly acquired. It takes time. Only advice [I have] is that efforts must be patient and there need to be many experiments like Bada and Tizen. Google started with Android in 2005 and Apple started with iOS in 2003 or 2004.

How about the patent dispute with Apple and Samsung. The patent war is helping Samsung see a rise in its brand awareness and that also worked for Samsung to grab more shares in smartphones?

It’s very difficult to measure the impact of litigation, both in the positive and negative. It’s costly and has unpredictable consequences. That makes it a very bad “business model”. I suppose both companies have agendas that are not visible in court and, perhaps, Apple is signalling to other parties and perhaps Samsung is using it to raise its profile. It still seems that unintended consequences may arise and the result could be very bad for everybody.

Samsung wants to become a market creator not just a fast follower. For me, it’s quite negative for Samsung to create a wholly-new eco-systems because Samsung’s edges are coming from manufacturing, not creative thinking. What do you think? If Samsung wants to be a creator, what conditions should Samsung need and what things should
the company do?

Unfortunately, manufacturing excellence is not enough to remain successful long term. US companies were successful, then the Japanese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong, and now Chinese. Companies either adapt or become irrelevant. Building ecosystems is the new basis of competition but it’s not the only option. Unfortunately we don’t know what will be necessary to build the next basis. What matters is experimentation and the building of new businesses. I can’t offer specific recommendations as there is no recipe book for how to create new markets.

For your views, who is much better so far since the trial has begun in the US. Samsung or Apple?

I cannot comment on this. Performance in court can only be judged by those present and I’m sure everybody present disagrees.

You think Apple is enjoying its so-called a homeground advantage for the trial and is there any possibility that the issue to go for the highest court in the US. My Samsung contacts say that’s the possibility, though.

Again, I don’t have an opinion on legal matters. Broadly speaking, IP litigation is similar to playing the lottery.

Need your perspectives about Google’s support for Samsung. Google confirms its supports for Samsung for an united front against Apple because the fight between Samsung and Apple is a kind of version that represents Google and Apple fight. Any comments about that?

I believe Google does support Samsung. I question however how this relationship will develop over time. I attached below commentary from a researcher at Deutsche Bank on Android in China. I think it has some clues about how Google treats its partners.

What are pre-conditions before Samsung making an action to sign a peace treaty with Apple?

It depends on the motives behind Apple’s actions. I think they want to see a “no copying” rule. They don’t mind competition and Android could be a help in the long run by moving users from feature phones to basic smartphones which could later be upgraded to Apple phones. But what I think they want is to signal to others that direct copying is unacceptable. Essentially, the work of their designers is very important to them and copying destroys [the designers'] incentives to do breakthrough products.

Horace Dediu is founder and managing director of Asymco, a Helsinki-based app developer/industry analysis advisory firm. You can find his blog here.