Samsung Should be Broken Up, I Have the Evidence

As part of my research at Nokia I often test and analyze products from other companies. This gives us an awareness of the state of the industry, and helps us to focus our efforts. This week my target was the Samsung Gear S smartwatch. As of yet I have been unable to actually test it. This is my story. And the story of why Samsung should be broken up into smaller companies that can actually make good products.

When my Gear S arrived I immediately noticed the classy two part box, very much like the boxes my traditional watches come in (I refuse to call them dumb watches). My high hopes were about to be dashed. While I knew the watch would require pairing to a phone before being usable, I assumed it would work with any Android phone. After all, why restrict your market, right? I was wrong.

A quick search on the web turns up that the Gear S, uses Tizen, not Android Wear. For some reason all of Samsung's Tizen watches only work with Samsung devices. The watches require a minimum OS version and also the Samsung Gear Manager app. This app is only available through Samsung's own app store, not the regular one, and it refused to install on my Moto X.

Okay fine. Samsung wants you to use their watch with one of their devices. I think it's foolish to restrict your market, but I'll live with it. So I go to Costco to pick up a new Samsung tablet. In this case, the 8 inch Tab 4 (not to be called the Tab 4 8, which would make no sense). I forget if the tablet had Galaxy in the name.

After charging and boot the tablet I ran all of the software updates. Hmm. No Lollipop. Why is a brand new device not receiving the latest OS? No matter, the Gear Manager app works on KitKat. I dutifully go to Samsung's ugly app store and install the manager. Turn on the watch to pair, and.... nothing. The tablet can't find it. After messing with settings, checking bluetooth, etc. I waste 30 minutes and still Samsung's own app can't see the watch. Getting a bit frustrated here.

After some Googling I scan for the watch from regular Bluetooth settings. It sees the watch! Finally some progress. Select it. And... it takes me right back to the manager app that couldn't find it a second ago. Except this time it says that the watch isn't supported on my device or requires a software update. It doesn't tell me if a software update is available, or what version I would need. And of course, it didn't give me this message when I first scanned, thus wasting my time.

What devices actually work?

Now it's time to answer the question. What devices are actually supported by the Samsung Gear S? Search around for it. I dare you. You won't find the answer from Samsung. Let me help you. Here's Samsung's support page for the Gear S.

In their own words: Samsung Gear S™ is currently compatible with Samsung devices that meet the following criteria: Android™ version 4.3 (Jelly Bean) or higher, WVGA or higher screen resolution, and 1.5GB or higher memory. My Tab 4 8 certainly meets those requirements, though I have no idea why a watch manager app needs a gig and a halfof memory to run, but still, it should work.

Further search reveals a list of Samsung phones on AT&T's site which support the Gear S, but of course they only list the phones that AT&T sells. The same for T-Mobile and other carriers. Why can't I just get a full list of compatible devices from Samsung?

I finally get the answer from an Amazon review. Apparently the Gear S only works with specific Samsung phones. Not any of Samsung's tablets. Not any one else's phones. Not even all Samsung phones. Just specific ones that no one has a complete list of. The bottom of the Gear S support page even says: "Some Samsung Health/Fitness applications and related services available for Samsung wearable devices may not be compatible with Samsung tablet devices", which implies that the rest of the tablet experience would be fine. That is clearly not the case.

Today I returned the Galaxy Tab48 to Costco and ordered a Samsung Galaxy S5 from Amazon. Not an Active or Alpha or Mega because who knows if the same phone in a different body would work. Just a plain S5. Hopefully my color choice won't affect the compatibility rating.

This is a truly horrible experience for the customer. I'm literally being paid to use it and I already hate it. I would never recommend anyone get a Samsung wearable.

Too Many Devices

Samsung products have become confusing. Look at their lineup. Can you tell me which one to buy? Why do they have both a 7" and 8" Tab 4? At least call it the Tab 4 + so that you don't confuse the numbers. Their phones are worse. What's the difference between an S5, Alpha, Mega, and Active? They look roughly the same but with wildly different prices and support. Is the Note a tablet sized phone or a phone sized tablet? I didn't know without looking up the specs (apparently it's a huge ass phone with a stylus).

Once you get a device from them the OS updates are spotty. Why do some devices receive updates and not others? Why does a brand new device run an old OS, with no timeline for an update? Why does their manager app refuse to run on a device which meets it's own documented specs?  

And why can't a tablet work with a smartwatch anyway? It has bluetooth and wifi. It has the horsepower and hardware. There is no technical reason why this shouldn't work. Did they intentionally exclude tablets or were they too lazy to certify the devices from other branch of the company?

So how did this happen?

It's worth stepping back to ask the question: how did Samsung get like this? How does one of the biggest companies in the world fail so badly at making good products? This isn't just the product itself that failed, but the advertising and documentation and marketing around the product, and the massive over-abundance of product choices. I think I know the answer.

Samsung’s mobile division is a huge company in it’s own right.  They make a lot of products, many in overlapping categories. Samsung wants to over-saturate every possible part of the market. They want to use all of the new components coming out of the rest of Samsung. They also have a lot of people to employ, so they have them make what are essentially duplicated products. These products don't exist because of market demand. They exist because Samsung needs them to exist.

I suspect that Samsung, like many big tech companies, is full of silos. These are product groups who don't talk to each other. They may even compete with each other. The silos focus only on what’s next, never on where they are now (thank you Yoda).  Once a device leaves the factory they don’t want to ever think about it again. They don’t wan’t to update its software. They don’t want to confirm whether it will work with anything newer.  They don’t want to certify it with a product from another silo unless forced to by upper management.

The problem is that when you forget about the device you are also forgetting about your customer.  I've been burned. I will never buy another Samsung device again. They simply didn't care enough to correctly document basic requirements. Was it the phone group's responsibility to document the compatibility list or the watch group? How do I know my next phone won’t work with my current Gear watch? Perhaps the watch group will have moved on to the new watch and the phone group to the new phone, and I'm left without an update.  The customer experience, which goes beyond the time of purchase, should always be first. It seems that what comes first at Samsung is pumping out new devices.

Nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

The only way this can be fixed is by making Samsung smaller; by taking away the conflicts of interest and silos. 

Samsung should spin out the mobile and gear divisions into their own companies.The Gear division would make watches that work with everyone's phones and tablets. They would finally have an incentive to do so because they could sell more watches. No longer would they be held back by a strategy tax.

The mobile division could then make fewer but better phones that people actually want to buy with less overlap. They would no longer have to pump out every variation just to use up components from Samsung's semi-conductor division Samsung should be broken up.  

Of course they won’t do that. Instead they will amble along making a lot of revenue and very little profit, pushing out the latest specs in crappy products with unhappy customers. Customers who will abandon Samsung when given the choice. 

Samsung: too big to fail, too big to succeed.

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Posted April 1st, 2015

Tagged: rant samsung