Could Samsung cripple Apple by withholding the next big innovation in mobile?

Could Samsung cripple Apple by withholding the next big innovation in mobile?

Summary: Samsung leads the way in the technology that will drive the next big transformation in mobile devices. Could it withhold the innovation from Apple?

TOPICS: Mobility


Samsung is drawing closer and closer to the technology that will transform the future of smartphones and tablets. It will show off its progress in a couple weeks at CES 2013 when it demos a 5.5-inch flexible display with a 1280x720 resolution and a 267 pixel density (an upgrade to the one pictured above from CES 2011).

While these displays are still at least a couple years away from being used in mainstream products, they represent the next big innovation in mobile devices. They will enable much thinner, more power-efficient smartphones and tablets, and a lot more flexibility (pun intended) in product designs and form factors.

The big question is whether or not Samsung would share this innovation with Apple.

As you know, Apple and Samsung are still embroiled in an epic legal battle over whether Samsung has illegally mimicked Apple devices and infringed upon Apple patents with its Galaxy family of smartphones and tablets.

Since Samsung is also the maker of lots of mobile hardware components, Apple had been one of its best customers. And from Apple’s point of view, Samsung was one of its most important partners for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod lines.

However, the legal cold war between the two companies has inevitably altered the relationship. Apple has been methodically moving business away from Samsung. While some of this has been guised in the wisdom of diversifying its supply chain, it’s impossible not to suspect this as retribution for its perceived improprieties on Samsung’s part.

Apple has significantly reduced its reliance on Samsung for memory chips. It is reportedly doing everything in its power to stop using Samsung to build the processors for its mobile devices. And it has moved much of its display business from Samsung to rival LG -- although it had to reportedly go back to Samsung and use it to make the Retina display for the iPad 3 because neither LG nor Sharp could meet Apple’s next-generation display requirements.

Overall, the lost Apple business clearly hasn’t hurt Samsung too badly. It has likely used the extra capacity to supply its own Samsung Mobile business, which saw the Galaxy S3 smartphone overtake the iPhone in 2012 as the most widely sold mobile device on the planet. The Galaxy Note has been a bigger seller as well.

Meanwhile, both Apple and Samsung continued to gobble up most of the profits in the mobile device market in 2012. As they go their separate ways, both companies are doing fine. The two will almost certainly continue to dominate the mobile market in 2013, as they introduce incremental improvements to their market-leading devices.

However, it’s when we get to the next big leap forward that the divergence between Apple and Samsung could really matter.

The kind of flexible OLED displays that Samsung is showing off at CES in January are going to change the game. Because they are bendable, less breakable, lighter, thinner, and more energy-efficient, they will unleash a wave a new designs in mobile devices -- lots of the things that haven’t even been imagined yet as well as designs that weren’t possible until the right technologies and materials were available.

Samsung is far and away the leader in this category. According to its own executives, Samsung produces over 90% of the OLEDs currently sold. And, it’s the only company publicly showing off these types of bendable OLEDs on a large scale -- and it’s been doing it for over two years.

Other companies like Philips, Sony, and Nokia have talked up this concept, but none of them are as close to bringing it to the real world as Samsung is.

So, the natural question is where this would leave Apple if Samsung does end up as the clear winner in the OLED race? Would it withhold the technology from its bitter rival and reserve the technology only for its own Samsung-branded devices?

The division that makes Samsung displays and the one that makes Samsung smartphones and tablets are two separate businesses within Samsung and each has their own P&L statements to optimize. So, it’s doubtful that Samsung will keep the display technology to itself -- at least not indefinitely.

But, since Samsung and Apple have such a fierce rivalry in the mobile market and now have such bad blood between them because of their legal squabbles, it’s not hard to imagine Samsung giving its own devices the exclusive first implementation of flexible OLED displays.

It will eventually sell them to Apple and other device makers to make their own designs. But, since this technology represents such game-changing, corner-turning opportunity, the rest of Samsung’s competitors will be a step behind and could inevitably be viewed as copycats.

What a turning of the tables that could be.

Apple certainly won’t let this pass without a fight. Don’t be surprised if Apple makes some quiet acquisitions to bring more display technology and expertise in-house. But, it may already be too late. Samsung could have its earliest flexible OLEDs to market before the end of 2013.

Topic: Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Good grief. The salivating at the possibility of

    Apple being "taken down a notch" is nauseating. News flash for you. If Apple does stumble it will be because of their cruddy QA, not because of anything Samsung does.
    • There is nothing that Samsung has or plans that could withhold Apple

      1) bendable OLED screens are planned (and demonstrated) by LG Display, as well as Taiwanese and Japanese industry. That said, this technology is useless since bendable screens are dramatically less scratch-resistant comparing to hardened glass (which is "softer" only comparing to the likes of sapphire);

      2) hi-density flash memory is planned by both Korean (besides Samsung) and Japanese industries. And since early this year Apple owns flash memory-controller design firm, which provides controller logic to all of flash memory manufacturers, including Samsung.

      Instead, it is Samsung is CRIPPLED by Apple who withholding innovations for all those recent years:

      1) Apple patented mathematics apparatus for multi-touch sensor recognition. While other solutions appeared, Apple's still the most optimal and provides the best accuracy;

      2) back in 2007, Apple developed drilling-from-a-whole-piece-of-alluminum technologic process, and kept it exclusive until 2011, when others finally were able to invent independent manufacturing process;

      3) Apple invented and patented mobile Retina-class IPS screens, and deployed the manufacturing simultaneously on three production companies under condition that they are not able to either sell screens to third-party, or use for their own products. This is how competing to Retina resolutions only appeared this year -- almost two years after original Retina;

      4) Apple invented and patented "in-cell" technology, thanks to which there is no need for separate glass/sensor layer. As with matrices themselves, Apple deployed production simultaneously on three manufacturing parters under condition that they could not sell anything or use for their own good.
      • DDERSSS

        Now that's some serious Fanboy ramble!!! Interesting stuff.
        Regardless, this is headed in a great, competitive direction.
        Let's get some Korean fanboys here to counter and start a good battle, shall we?
        Danny Kastner
        • yeah

          Ddersss doesn't deal in reality and has no clue what exists outside Apple's offices.
          • What exists outside of Apple offices?

            OLED? I already wrote about it. What else "innovation in mobile" you want to discuss?
      • Let me fix that for you...

        (1)Android handsets are good enough for most humans.
        (2)Samsung has not been materially harmed by this action.
        (3)Apple invented the marketing term "Retina display", that's it. They do spend a TON of money on marketing to get people like you to believe in their products even if things aren't really what they initially seem to be. Steve Jobs was famous for his reality distortion field selling technique.
        (4)See #2.

        Samsung smartphones have been selling very well, despite Apple's attempts to club them with patent violations, having most of their success in the USA. Apple (as an extension of Steve Jobs' personality) is trying very hard to stop a natural process from occurring-evolution of technology. Getting Samsung to spend money on counter-litigation is the only area Apple has crippled Samsung and the current 1 billion dollar judgment has a LONG ways to go before any actual money exchanges take place.

        Expect Apple to continue *copying* some of the best ideas Android has and incorporate them into their own handsets such as the 4-inch (and even bigger later) form factor now seen in the iPhone 5. "Good artists copy, great artists steal"-Steve Jobs, 1996.
        • Yep

          Nailed it.
          • No, he did not, especially in #3

            Apple has many IPS screen patents and no one was able to replicate Retina-class resolution since June 2010 to spring of 2012.
        • Thank you DonRupertBitByte!

          "(3)Apple invented the marketing term "Retina display", that's it. They do spend a TON of money on marketing to get people like you to believe in their products even if things aren't really what they initially seem to be. Steve Jobs was famous for his reality distortion field selling technique.

          Whew, I was really worried for sometime that Apple was going to drag me into court because I have two retinas that I am constantly using without paying Apple anything.

          I can now blink in confidence again...
          • You are a brave man...

            ...admitting that you have two retinas. Apple do have a track record for suing over really stupid things. They had a go at Woolworths in Australia claiming that their logo was too similar. Google Woolworths, go to their home page and have a look. Would you ever confuse it with Apple's logo?
        • Reality Distortion Field???

          In 2007, RIM's Blackberry was the #1 smartphone in the world. Fast forward to 2011, iPhone is the #1 smartphone in the world. Apple established the form factor that we have all come to appreciate today in a smart phone: a touch screen, an app store, a camera, web surfing device, and many other features. Don't give me some crap about a reality distortion field, what Jobs did at Apple was very real and don't even get me started on the personal computer, laser printer, the mp3 player, and the tablet computer. Apple has changed the world, you can acknowledge that or keep your head in your arse.
          • Yep

            That is the reality distortion field in full effect there!

            You don't think that CP/M devices were out at the same time? IBM used a very well established Clone Market for their first computer, do you think that popped up over night?

            Back when the first Apple came out they were using Basic but, Digital was using a real OS.

            As for printing, I believe you mean WYSIWYG which in reality is what Apple made. The printers were Canon built.
          • Indeed

            Unlike some rabid frothing at the mouth fanbois here I will not say Apple invented the smartphone - far from it. What they did however was completely revolutionalize the paradigm... and kick-started the current smartphone market. Until Apple released the iPhone no one had successfully interated a phone with a web accessable device that at the time was the closest to a desktop browsing experience, a portable music player, and all with a killer multi-touch capactive screen. Sure there were attempts at it but they fell short. They did the same thing previously with the portable music player market and did the same thing with the tablet market. Love or hate them mobile tech would not be where it is at now if it wasn't for Apple.
          • Apple added

            A phone chip to existing PDA designs (from HP, Dell, Palm and many others). Talked about for years in PDA forums.
            They did do a nice job on the design, tho.
          • Not quite

            Most PDA designs had a sliding keyboard, a touch screen that was reatvice and not multi-touch friendly, and weren't so hot as portable music players.
          • You're kidding, right?

            "and don't even get me started on the personal computer, laser printer, the mp3 player, and the tablet computer."

            Apple did not invent any of these. They simply took items that were already in existence and brought them together. If another company did the same thing to Apple now that Apple did to the inventors of the technologies, Apple would have them in court.

            Personal Computer: where to start? Not with Apple, not even the Apple I was the first, much less the Macintosh. The Programma 101, released in 1965, was the first commercial "desktop computer". (Actually slightly more than a programmable calculator now.
            Laser Printer: Again, Apple didn't invent it. The laser printer was invented at Xerox in 1969 by researcher Gary Starkweather.
            MP3 Player: Apple was a late appearance to that market. The world's first mass-produced hardware MP3 player was created in 1997 by Saehan Information Systems.
            Tablet Computer: Again, Apple was not the first. Acorn Computers developed and delivered an ARM based touch screen tablet computer for this program, branded the NewsPad in 1997.

            I'm not saying that Apple doesn't "borrow" from others and improve (slightly in some cases). I'm saying they were definitely NOT the first.
          • A bit off

            The first tablet was actually the Apple Newton which predated the NewsPad by several years.
        • please do tell

          Was 4" patented or somehow reserved by Samsung and what exactly in your opinion prevented Apple from producing an 4" smartphone.

          Is Samsung becoming some form of religion, or Android?
          • Nope

            Samsung is carrying the truth that is Android and breaking down the Cult of Apple!
          • Um no. Android is a choice for consumers granted and in all

            likelihood will win the all important "market share" title in all devices including tablets sooner or later. Apple on the other hand will continue to win the "PROFIT" title in both margins per sale of devices and after sales money making Apple and it's stock holders very happy. You can have the race to the most it's all yours, and enjoy. But wait that title means little even to you for it means low margin sales and in the case of Android OEM's sometimes not even ANY after sales monies for they the OEM's don't have stores like say an "iTunes" now do they? So since Android is not a single company but many who does the market share title of number one in terms of volume belong too? the OS alone and not the OEM'S? How kind of employ and well sad for them/you:)

            Pagan jim
            James Quinn