The Grass is the Greenest it Has Ever Been
I make no secret that I have been using an iPhone as my primary phone since 2007. As an analyst, I have to try different products in all kind of categories including phones, which means I have been using Android phones as well as what has come before from Windows Phone to PalmOS and every flavor of feature-phone before then. No matter what phone I tried, however, my trials end up with me going back to the iPhone. There are two main reasons for doing that: one is that I prefer the UX and the second is that the value in using devices across the Apple ecosystem is much more evident to me.
In February, I got the Samsung Galaxy 10+ to test, and I was expecting to follow a similar pattern to previous Samsung’s phones trials, which is that I love the design and the way they fit in my small hands, I like the camera, but ultimately I am overwhelmed by the UX. What ended up happening instead, is that I am still using the phone and I have seriously thought about making the switch. So here is what has changed and what is holding me back.
A Cloud World
Maybe it is the maturity of the smartphone market, which has led to app parity for the most part. Or perhaps it is the fact that even in a home like ours that has more Apple devices than any other brand we have happily let other ecosystems come in and take a slice of our time and money pie. Or maybe it is the combination of the two that helps consumers move from device to device more easily. Of course, there are hardware differences and some proprietary apps or features all across the various ecosystems and differences in how brands approach privacy, but the point, I think, is that with services and apps that go across devices thanks to the cloud moving across ecosystem is more comfortable than it has ever been.
Ultimately this is why I think Apple is doubling down on services. Yes, they will get an extra revenue source, but more importantly, they will create more stickiness to their ecosystem which will lead consumers to think twice before moving on. While using the Galaxy S10+, for instance, I was quite happy to move from CarPlay to Android Auto and have Google Assistant promptly bring up whatever song I wanted from Apple Music while I was driving, but unable to play my Playlists even when they are available in iCloud.
Two Things Are Holding Me Back
There were two things that I particularly missed when using the Galaxy S10+ and the Galaxy Watch Active, and both are not out of reach for Samsung.
The first thing I missed while using the Samsung Galaxy S10+ was iMessage. It is not about the green and blue bubble, nor it is about saving on text messages. What I missed was the ability to send a message from any device I was on as I usually do making iMessage a core part of how I communicate at work. Unfortunately, while Windows 10 has made some progress in supporting text messaging across Android the experience is just not as fluid. I hope that Samsung will spend some time creating a better-optimized app that goes across their phones, tablets and Windows PCs. I do wonder how many iPhone users will consider a move to Android if iMessage were available as a cross-platform app. While there are other apps that I use to talk to people iMessage is by far what I rely on every day.
The second thing I missed was the deep integration that comes from controlling all the pieces of the experience. The best example possibly being the vibration the Apple Watch gives out when you are using Apple Maps directions, and you should be taking a turn. I prefer Google Maps to Apple Maps, but as Google has given up on designing an Apple Watch app, I end up using Apple Maps when I drive. With the Galaxy Watch Active, which I see as the best alternative to Apple Watch in the market today, I missed that gentle tapping, a feature that might be hard to implement due to the combination of the watch running on Tizen and Samsung not controlling the experience on the Google Maps side.
As you can see, both my examples have little to do with Samsung’s hardware and a lot to do with the limitations Samsung is facing because they are not controlling all aspects of my experience.
More Confidence, not Technology Would Make Samsung’s Devices More Desirable
Aside from not being able to control the full experience, I also noticed that the options that are available on Samsung’s devices are just too many. Yes, there is such a thing as too many choices. Especially for consumers coming to Samsung from iOS, I think the available range of options can be overwhelming. In a way, consumers on iOS are used to Apple making decisions for them. When it comes to settings, users can, of course, change them but by and large, Apple is picking defaults that many users will never change mostly because of convenience or because they are not savvy enough to go and replace them. In most cases, Apple’s choice does not hinder user experience and simplifies things for the user.
It seems to me that Samsung has opted for the opposite and they believe there is value in giving users all the options there could be and let them figure it out. The new One UI helps by surfacing the most common use cases and settings, but you can easily find yourself three layers down in the options menu at any given turn. I am not sure if this broad set of options are the manifestation of a lack of confidence by Samsung, but I think that over the years their software implementation has improved and so is their understanding of what consumers want rather than what is technically possible so they could make those choices for their users. The camera UI is an excellent example of where Samsung has spent some time making decisions on default settings and leaving options to the more advanced users, but there is more room for simplifications in my view.
Making those decisions for consumers will also improve the cross-device experience that you will get from owning multiple Samsung devices. Samsung might be at a disadvantage because they are not controlling the underlying OS, but this disadvantage can turn to an advantage as consumers come to care more and more about an in-app experience and find best of breed products. In other words, if productivity is what I care about the most, I am likely to find a PC and phone combination that empowers me to be efficient, and this might mean that my two devices are not running on the same OS and are not part of the same ecosystem. The same can be said about gaming or media consumption. We have seen Samsung work with many partners to bring unique experiences to their products. I hope that such partnerships will extend to developers as well at the next SDC in the Fall. Pointing at the large installed base of devices that developers have access to is useful, but working with them to create better experiences is critical for developers and creates more stickiness for Samsung.