Despite the enormous amounts of money being spent each year on research and development, Samsung Electronics is at a loss for "the next big thing" to follow up its Galaxy lineup. Moreover, the buzz over Samsung phones is waning in light of Apple's iPhone 5S and the hype over what its upcoming Galaxy S5 will look like is nothing like the attention the earlier Galaxy S models received.
A Korean report published today notes that "Samsung will face headwinds if it fails to show innovation with their upcoming Galaxy S5 that is expected to be launched at the Mobile World Congress later this month.
Samsung's annual R&D spending for all of its business divisions including mobile between June 2012 and June 2013 stood at $10.4 billion ― the largest among IT firms worldwide, according to an October report released by leading global consulting firm Booz and Company. Most of it had been spent on developing Samsung's flagship smartphone model.
Despite the heavy spending, the Seoul-based company still ranks third among the world's most innovative companies, following Apple and Google, according to the same report. Market analysts said this reflects the firm's inefficient spending and failure to shed the copycat image that has dogged it ever since the first Galaxy model entered the market.
Recent news reports revealing a glimpse of Samsung's forthcoming smartphone indicate that the Korean tech company, which is striving to transform itself into an innovative leader, will likely remain a fast follower.
Some of the specifications reportedly coming to the Galaxy 5S include a 3,200 mAh battery in the hopes of fixing the battery problems that plagued previous Galaxy models, a fingerprint sensor embedded on the screen to counter Apple's Touch ID, new motion recognition technology, a QHD display and a waterproof body, which were introduced with few differences from Sony's.
Song Jong-ho, an analyst at KDB Daewoo Securities thinks that "The new Galaxy smartphone is unlikely to boast much that would set it apart from products by Samsung's rivals that may be released this year. It will be like one of the many similar devices."
The Korean report surprised me when they specifically noted that "Some critics attributed Samsung's lack of innovation to the death of Steve Jobs, the former chief of Apple, because the Korean firm has lost a role model to copy." Finally, they're reporting what we've all known for years, including the courts.
The report further noted openly that "It has been rumored that Samsung is trawling around the world to find the next role model to follow, and some say Samsung is keeping an eye on Japanese companies and their technology." It always down to whom and what to follow, what to copy.
Lee Seung-woo, an analyst from IBK Securities added that "With no mesmerizing innovations expected for the Galaxy S5, one measure available for Samsung to outpace other competitors is to secure efficient cost control in production." Lee added that "Collaboration with Google will likely take place more often as it is rumored that Samsung will not use Tizen, an open-source operating system project co-led by Intel, for smartphones but only for other electronic products."
The two companies recently inked a cross-license deal which will allow them to access each other's technology. Lee noted that "The deal will give more leverage to Samsung in developing wearable and smart products such as smart glasses, lens and cars."
A few weeks ago, the Korea Times reported that Samsung "is currently developing its smart glasses, tentatively called "Galaxy Glass" with the goal of launching the product at this year's IFA fair in Berlin at the earliest.
Samsung has already registered a patent in Korea, according to the Korea Intellectual Property Office.
The device would link with a smartphone to display alerts on a transparent or translucent lens, allowing users to take phone calls and listen to music, which is similar to Galaxy Gear in terms of functionality."
While something like Galaxy Glass may provide Samsung with something new this fall, one has to wonder if it will flop like their smartwatch did last fall. In general, I'm not alone with this train of thought. Robert Scoble thinks that Google Glass is doomed to fail this year, and he was noted by Forbes as being Google Glass's number one fan. Though if anything, Google will gain a mass producer to push the hell out of their original idea and promote the idea of Glass overall. Though in the end, it'll do nothing to help Samsung shed their image of being nothing more than a copycat machine.
While the tech world and Wall Street have been grumbling lately about Apple not innovating at a faster pace, one has to pause for a moment and say that Apple's lull is proving once again, that without new innovative categories developed by Apple or others, Samsung is one lost puppy.
It's proving once again that Samsung is just a big industrial machine that only knows how to copy what is truly innovative and it may take years before they'll ever be able to shake that image.
Samsung is forecasting to be the first with a foldable display product in late 2015 and they do have some interesting patent pending dual display smartphone designs on record. But for now, in the real-world, the copycat awaits the Next Great Thing to emerge from others. For without it, the big industrial copying machine stands confused and is shown to be nothing more than a volume-leader without a brain. And although they're trying to find their brain on the way to the fictional Land of Oz, I'm not sure they'll ever get there.