South Korean giant Samsung has a little bit of a thing for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) . The company likes to copy just about everything Apple does -- from product design to packaging and accessories to retail store layout to software interface design.
Samsung has even plastered Apple icons on the walls of retail stores even though they correspond to apps that aren't even compatible (ever seen the App Store or Safari browser running on a Samsung device?). In 2010, Samsung created a 132-page internal document (link opens PDF) which has the sole purpose of outlining how to more effectively copy Apple's iOS software interface.
Of course, this is all anecdotal and it's still up to the courts to decide from a legal perspective whether or not any of Samsung's actions constituted illegal patent infringement. U.S. courts said "yes" while British courts said "no."
Regardless, Samsung continues its course and has just now unveiled its newest Apple carbon copy: Samsung Wallet.
This sounds familiar
At a developer conference at Mobile World Congress, the conglomerate showed off its new Samsung Wallet app that's very clearly a rip-off of Apple's Passbook app that was released last year. Samsung Wallet is designed to aggregate various things people would normally keep in a physical wallet, such as event tickets, coupons, store membership cards, and boarding passes, among many other things.
The app utilizes location-based notifications in order to conveniently pull up a relevant item when you're visiting a specific store. It tracks card balances and points for users, while also integrating directly with third-party services through developer APIs.
Samsung Wallet also chooses not to utilize near-field communication, or NFC, and instead uses simple barcodes that merchants can scan so that merchants aren't required to make expensive infrastructure upgrades to support NFC.
Exactly everything listed above is a feature of Apple's Passbook. Samsung even aped Apple's icon. Nearly every aspect of Samsung Wallet is strategically, functionally, and aesthetically identical to Apple Passbook.
The lack of NFC support is particularly notable because Samsung devices include NFC chips and Samsung just announced a partnership with Visa to support NFC mobile payments using Visa's PayWave technology. Samsung also backs Google Wallet, which also uses NFC.
It's working! Keep copying!
The most surprising aspect of Samsung's imitating ways is that it's actually proving quite successful. Mimicking Apple in every imaginable way while also pursuing an incredibly broad product strategy and targeting low-end market segments have allowed the company to become the top smartphone vendor in the world. An enormous marketing budget helps, too.
That speaks a lot to the importance of scale, distribution, and marketing, since smaller rivals like HTC arguably have higher-quality products -- like the new HTC One that's made out of machined aluminum instead of cheap plastic -- but Samsung is still crushing them.
It's somewhat unexpected to see the market reward this type of behavior, while other companies in different industries get punished for making similar choices. Imagine if Zynga (NASDAQ: ZNGA ) were to become the top game maker after shamelessly copying Electronic Arts and many, many other titles from numerous other game developers.
Instead, investors are punishing Zynga, with shares just a third of where they went public (even after the 40% rally over the past three months), high-level execs continue to jump ship, and negative bookings growth shows that players are also wary of the company's copycat ways.
Yet Samsung is riding high on its wave of imitation, and has become not only a major competitive threat to Apple, but also to its biggest software partner, Google. Big G is worried about Samsung gaining too much power over Android, in which case it could leverage its position to Google's detriment.
Even though Apple scored a $1 billion award from the U.S. ruling, the case is far from over and appeals take a long time. You might think that staring at a possible $1 billion penalty would dissuade Samsung from continuing copying, but you'd be wrong.
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