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Technically Speaking: Samsung-Microsoft Alliance Sets Crosshairs on Apple

It’s Samsung and Apple left in the ring now as Huawei licks its wounds in the shadows for the time being. Samsung and Apple – both mobile manufacturing giants with a foot in other affiliated businesses, both top companies as listed by Forbes (Apple 6th, Samsung 13th in the 2019 rankings), and both vying for top dog bragging rights.

Yet as companies, they could not be any different. When we pit Apple vs Samsung, we’re in fact asking several other questions. Android vs iOS, USA vs Korea, prosumer vs mass market, philosophy vs practicality. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The differences

Samsung launches a heck ton of phones every year. We’re nearly at the end of primetime for them, and we’ve seen four Note-series devices earlier today, in addition to the Galaxy S10e, S10, S10+ and S10 5G devices launched earlier this year, along with the Galaxy A9 Pro, A10, A20, A30, A40, A60, A70, A80, and troublesome Galaxy Fold. We’re still missing out a chunk of Galaxy J phones, but you get my point.

Just one launch of the many. Image: Samsung

As if to prove our point, Apple has launched a grand total of zero iPhones this year so far. The upcoming iPhone 11 (or whatever they choose to name it) is slated to launch around September 20th by most estimates.

My point: Samsung’s smartphone releases target virtually every market segment – with device from under SGD 250 (USD 180) for the Galaxy J4 to under SGD 2,800 (USD 2,000) for the Galaxy Fold.

The iPhone line-up consists of a maximum of three phones at each launch event. iPhone Xs, Xs Max and XR the last, and likely the same format the next. These phones range from SGD 1,299 (under USD 1,000) for the XR, to SGD 2,349 (under USD 1,700) for the fully-specced Xs Max.

What it means

As a result of the lesser price differentiation, users of all backgrounds often have to fork out a pretty penny to buy into Apple’s fold, or otherwise seek out second hand devices.

Yet they do. Stories linger of desperate students who sell kidneys or queue for days in the rain to get the latest iPhone. Brand prestige? Likely. Brand prestige alone? I doubt so.

Where Samsung has built for itself a handsome empire spanning everything from premium to regular smartphones, wearables, laptops, tablets and home appliances like TVs and refrigerators, Apple has always kept its nose buried in personal computing products. Sure, it expanded from iPod to iPhone, and from iPhone to iPad and then to Apple Watch, but they’re all still personal computing products.

The times we pair each wireless headphones to our devices can be counted on one hand… but who’s going to say that the AirPods pairing interface isn’t simply awesome?

As such, these Apple-built products have some degree of interface with other Apple-built products. Say it with me: e-co-sys-tem.

That’s to say, the AirPods don’t work like regular old Bluetooth headphones. You simply flip open the case, and they magically appear on your iPhone or iPad in rotating, animated glory.

It’s almost something philosophical. With products designed around a user’s experience, Apple doesn’t pay as much regard to numbers and specifications. Instead, it focuses itself on the tiny things that make products good.

AirDrop? You got it. Handoff? In a jiffy. Drag-and-drop? Every time. Copy and Paste across devices? Sure, and you can use your iPhone to scan a doc straight onto a Mac project.

Working between Apple devices, users are able to seamlessly access information and functionality without disruption.

Samsung’s integrations aren’t significantly different from its competitors. Using, say, a Huawei or LG phone along with a Samsung smartwatch, Galaxy Buds, or tablet, and there’s not much anyone would miss.

It’s not to say they’ve not been trying to build an ecosystem before this collaboration. Earlier this year, Samsung showed off their instant-pairing Galaxy Buds and smartwatch that paired similar to the Apple AirPods, along with Handoff-like features between the S10 and its tablets.

The threat

That’s where Samsung’s recent collaboration with Microsoft revealed at today’s Unpacked event comes in. Unable to rely on Google’s software updates to drive meaningful and differentiated change, Samsung might be seeking out the undisputed leader in productivity – Microsoft.

Microsoft executives demo-ed Samsung’s features live during the Unpacked event. Image: Samsung

Amongst the improvements made in integration: DeX on laptops, Samsung Note export to Microsoft Word, and Link to Windows accessible directly on the Quick Panel.

This effectively means users can access photos, notifications and messages (call support pending) without shifting their eyes from their computers, export handwritten notes transcribed as plain text in Word Documents, and swiftly triage Outlook mail with simple swipes of the S Pen.

Those are baby steps, but Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made a surprise appearance at the Unpacked event. It’s hard to tell what this means, but I posit it’s the C-level equivalent of “you’ll be seeing more of us, just you wait”.

So what about Apple?

Given what we covered about price points, Apple is facing serious trouble if Samsung and Microsoft manage some serious hits. The Microsoft Office suite of productive applications still remain the most popular no matter the company.

Where Samsung competes for the same customers in each product category, Apple customers know which smartwatch, laptop and desktop to purchase in order to get the most out of their iPhone.

Despite Apple’s Work equivalent (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) applications continually innovating and putting on a strong show, Microsoft’s universality is the real threat, and the threat is coming to smartphones.

If DeX and other Microsoft integrations carry over to the more budget models, Samsung simply caters to too wide an audience to ignore. With Apple pivoting toward services in terms of revenue segment, it’s a real impetus to not rest on laurels and to push – heck, ram – the envelope far and beyond simple animated pairing sequences and notifications-on-all-devices.

Ian Ling
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

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