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IFA 2012: Samsung defiant on ‘pure innovation’

Published: September 1, 2012 | 8:15 am
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Samsung’s recent legal battles with Apple have not slowed its momentum, as the company showed at IFA in Berlin.

Since it began in 1924, the IFA technology fair in Berlin has been where the biggest brands have vied to show off their latest innovations. Philips first demonstrated the audio cassette here in 1962; the Betamax versus VHS battle played out here; and last year Samsung launched its bid to replace the pen and paper with a screen and stylus, the Galaxy Note.
In 2012, however, the feel of the show has changed – thanks to Apple’s legal action against Samsung, all eyes were on the Korean giant that is appealing against its $1billion fine for patent infringement. Press conferences from Sony, Panasonic and others released impressive new products, but the momentum was with Samsung.
The firm was not cowed by the pressure, however: while its rivals held one press conference, Samsung held two and bombarded the media with three hours of new products, from a remarkable 50” television that offers the best picture in its category to refrigerators, ovens and washing machines.
It opened the launch show for an updated version of the Galaxy Note with a small orchestra, a conjuror, film director Wim Wenders and a host of other demonstrations. Amid new tablets, computers and phones, the firm’s boss JK Shin made no direct mention of Apple’s litigation at all.
Reading between the lines, however Samsung offered plenty of quotes to tell consumers what it thinks of Apple’s legal battle: the show opened with the idea that “What you will see here is pure innovation”

The most direct the company got was Shin’s statement: “Regardless of any hindrance Samsung will continue to provide outstanding, unique and innovative products”. Talking about Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 8 software, another senior executive observed, “We’re really excited by this operating system – we’re the only innovator in the market place capable of creating devices across the whole ecosystem”. A third said “We’re changing not just the way we work but who we are”, although he was ostensibly talking about how Samsung had changed over recent years rather than months.
The overall effect was for Samsung to affirm a growing impression that whatever the legal challenges it was already beyond what analysts CCS insight called “criticism that Samsung is a follower not an innovator”. It’s S-Pen, the stylus used on the Galaxy Note, appeared across a range of tablets and laptops and made it clear that Samsung is trying to offer something unique.
The bid to give the impression that it was business as usual is helped by the fact that even a billion-dollar fine is a drop in the ocean for a company made nearly $4bn in profit last quarter, sells a million mobile phones a day and a TV every three seconds. Nonetheless, what remains to be seen is how far Samsung can take its campaign to create a whole-house system, where the company’s products are in every room. Equivalent conglomerates such as Sony have faced rapid decline and calls to be broken up as they’ve struggled to retain their lustre. But for now, perhaps the most remarkable thing about IFA 2012 has been that Samsung’s ascent seems unstoppable, despite challenges that might have sunk once mightier brands.


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