Skip to main content

Samsung exec called iPhone 5 a 'tsunami' that must be 'neutralized'

Samsung exec called iPhone 5 a 'tsunami' that must be 'neutralized'

Share this story

Apple's iPhone 5 was a "tsunami" that needed to be "neutralized," according to an internal email written by the former chief executive of Samsung's American phone company. In a correspondence from Dale Sohn, who was the president and CEO of Samsung Telecommunications America up until August 2013, he suggested the company set up a "counter-plan" to thwart the device, which would go on sale just three months later.

"As you know well, there will be a tsunami when iPhone 5 is coming. This will be happening sometime in September or October," Sohn warned in a message dated June 5, 2012. "According to CEO's direction, we have to set up a counter-plan to neutralize this tsunami," he added, referring to JK Shin, the head of Samsung's mobile business.

"We have to set up a counter-plan."

That counter plan involved a program to let people try the Galaxy S3 and Note 2 for free, with returns, as well as offer up prepaid versions of the S3. That was joined by a "PR attack plan" that would involved "pointing out iPhone 5's weaknesses," which Sohn referred to as the 4-inch screen.

Apple brought out the document in an effort to suggest that Samsung was deeply concerned about the iPhone at its very highest levels. That's part of a broader plan to undercut Samsung's argument to a California jury that it has created a series of original devices with original features. Samsung is a self-described "fast-follower," however throughout this latest patent trial between the two, Apple suggested Samsung flat-out copied features to improve its own devices. Samsung's argument referred to any such practices as "benchmarking" and competitive analysis.

The email thread came up following the testimony of Todd Pendleton, chief marketing officer of Samsung Telecommunications America, one of three arms of Samsung that have been accused of infringing on five Apple patents. Samsung had called Pendleton up to the stand in order to discuss the company's "The Next Big Thing" marketing campaign, which Samsung has argued boosted sales of its phones and had Apple writing similar internal emails about competitive concerns.

Along with the "tsunami" document, Apple brought out an earlier email from Sohn to Pendleton dated October 4th, 2011 — the same day Apple announced the iPhone 4S — suggesting the company reach out to Google to work on an ad campaign to go after Apple, but indirectly. In the message, Samsung noted it wasn't willing to flat-out target Apple, given the fact that the iPhone maker was a "large" customer:

As you have shared previously, we are unable to battle [Apple] directly in our marketing. If it continues to be Samsung’s position to avoid attacking Apple given its status as as a large customer, can we go to Google to ask them to launch a campaign against Apple based on the many better Android products available in the market for Q4?

Sohn's earlier testimony primarily involved describing Samsung before and after the debut of its line of Galaxy devices, specifically its jump from being behind smartphone makers like Apple and HTC. Sohn said much of that success was due to Samsung's marketing efforts, something that was attributed to hiring Pendleton. The trial, which has been underway for two weeks, is expected to conclude after Samsung runs through the rest of its witnesses at the end of next week.

Updated April 15th 12:35PM: with source document and additional background.