You might be asking yourself at the moment, how the heck does Microsoft’s Xbox have anything to do with the Samsung vs. Apple case? Let me explain.
A cautionary tale
It was May 2005. The video game industry’s annual confab E3 had just wrapped up, and both Sony and Microsoft had put together a solid debut of their next-generation consoles. Sony introduced the PlayStation 3 to widespread acclaim, with most pundits expecting the console to sell as many – if not more – than the PS2. The power of the console wowed, and it was seen as a solid outing for Sony.
On the other hand, Microsoft’s debut of the Xbox 360 was far more muted. The Xbox was an adequate console, but it certainly didn’t set any land speed records for sales. Microsoft’s event got whatever media scraps were left over, and by and large was a footnote to the events of the conference that year along with a simplistic console from Nintendo named the Wii.
But then something strange happened. An embarrassing series of delays, miscalculations, and stumbles pushed back the PS3’s launch date from the Spring of 2006 to November of that year. Meanwhile, the Xbox 360 launched without delay in November 2005, giving it a year-long head start on its rival. By mid-2006, following Sony’s admission that the PS3 would indeed be late, game developers were releasing once PlayStation exclusives for the Xbox, and the PlayStation lost much of its allure.
Making matters worse, Nintendo’s Wii took everyone by surprise after its launch around the time of the PS3, becoming the best-selling console for this current generation. The delays arguably did permanent damage to the PS3 and its potential for success, and it’s taken nearly six years for the console to reach parity with the Xbox 360.
Simply put, Microsoft gained from its competitor’s mistakes
History repeats itself
Now for the connection with Samsung vs. Apple. The Xbox 360’s success had far less to do with the console itself; it was more a case of being in the right place at the right time. Here we are again, this time at a crucial point in the smartphone industry, where Microsoft is hoping to redefine its mobile strategy with Windows Phone 8. And guess what? Microsoft’s mobile OS is well positioned to capitalise.
Samsung made some critical mistakes in its smartphone strategy. Whether you believe the monetary awards were appropriate or not, the evidence presented during the month-long trial does suggest that the Korean company wilfully copied Apple. This helped them get to where they are today: The second biggest phone manufacturer behind Apple (or first, if you believe some recent reports).
Today’s court case can be seen as an allegory to those days in 2005 and 2006 where Sony overpromised and under-delivered. Those game developers – not wanting to wait – can be matched up with the phone manufacturers of today. They see Apple’s continuing battle against Android (Samsung in particular), and want to avoid such a mess.
Microsoft provides protection
Microsoft’s Windows Phone is the safe haven these manufacturers might be looking for. While Samsung continued to do battle with Apple in the courts, Redmond wisely began signing licensing agreements with Apple for some of the same technologies it was suing Samsung for.
If the ruling is allowed to stand, manufacturers will need to take a long look at their designs and may see Windows Phone as a much more attractive option, primarily due to the built-in patent protections Windows Phone will provide.
Another beneficiary is Nokia, once the world’s top selling phone manufacturer. The Finnish company’s bet on Windows Phone and Microsoft in an oft-criticised deal may now look smarter than ever given the two company’s tight cooperation.
But that’s not stopping people from calling the Samsung-Apple ruling the end of consumer choice when it comes to phones. I tend to disagree.
The sky isn’t falling
There are a lot of stories out there right now bemoaning the court’s decision and how it’s going to be bad for the consumer. That may not be the case if we do see a rush to Windows Phone as a result. Overall, the latest Windows Phone devices have pushed some design envelopes, and have come in form factors that look nothing like the iPhone.
In the same vein, Samsung is now forced to innovate on its own. A lot of its early phones following the iPhone’s release looked unimaginative, and an attempt at playing for the lowest common denominator in the market – the cheap seats that Apple wasn’t interested in.
If its lawyers are not successful in getting the ruling overturned (or even if they are, just to stay out of the courts), Samsung will have to return to the drawing board. The company’s phones will look unique and innovative. The end result here? A whole heck of a lot more in consumer choice, not less.
But in any case, Microsoft stands to gain the most.
I am not attempting to cheapen the hard work of the hundreds of Microsoft employees on some of these products. Many are truly innovative, and don’t get a lot of credit for that fact in the end. But the company has proven to have incredible luck in benefiting from its competitors’ mistakes, which seems to be playing out once again here in the wake of Samsung and Apple.
That certainly seems like a win for consumers to me.