Samsung's public-facing attitude has changed more in the past year than in the previous five combined. Driven by a sense of urgency coming from its falling smartphone sales, the Korean company has taken decisive steps to rectify its stagnant design, improve its marketing, and streamline its operations. It's also adopted a refreshingly collaborative approach when it comes to working with others. Today's Samsung seeks alliances, not adversaries.
2014 began with Samsung and Google holding crisis talks over the Korean company's excessive customizations of the Android user experience. Google was worried that Samsung's tweaks were degrading the quality of that experience and making it increasingly difficult to recognize as being Android at all. In August, Microsoft filed a suit against Samsung alleging it wasn't paying proper royalties for using Microsoft IP in Android. And a year earlier, Apple was signing contracts with another chip manufacturer to reduce its reliance on Samsung as the chief producer of its iPhone processors.
Samsung seeks alliances, not adversaries
The big and grandiose Samsung of yesteryear, the company that broke its earnings records every quarter, felt confident enough to pick fights with the tech industry's biggest players. When Apple accused it of blatantly ripping off the iPhone, Samsung stuck to its guns — and even though it ended up paying damages to Apple, it arguably won more than it lost through the avalanche of free press that the lawsuit brought it. But that's not really a trick you can play twice, and a wiser Samsung is emerging that has managed to find common ground with most of its former antagonists.
The Microsoft royalties dispute was settled in February and was swiftly followed by the bundling of Microsoft apps on the new Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge flagship phones from Samsung. But it wasn't a total Microsoft takeover, either. Both devices run Google's Android Lollipop software and it truly is Google's Android. The Material Design principles that Matias Duarte and the rest of the Android design team developed have been faithfully recreated in Samsung's latest hardware. It's not pure Android, but it's the closest that Samsung could come to it while still retaining some sense of ownership and uniqueness to its own user experience.
200 people are working on the Samsung-Apple relationship and, for once, they're not all lawyers
The special case of Samsung's relationship with Apple now has a dedicated team — made up of 200 Samsung employees — working solely on the task of producing displays for Apple. Samsung has also regained its role as a major supplier for iPhone components, securing orders for Apple's upcoming A9 chip. For all the hot rhetoric between these two companies over the years, the relationship they share remains symbiotic, and the latest signs suggest that it will intensify in a positive direction.
While it's encouraging to see Samsung mending old associations, the Korean company has also been proactive in developing new ones. It has an exclusive Kindle for Samsung deal that secures some small perks for Galaxy device owners that want to use Amazon's online bookstore. When the Oculus Rift needed new displays for its latest version, Samsung stepped in with its Galaxy Note screens. Later, it created the Gear VR in collaboration with Facebook's Oculus, giving it a much better chance of seeing broader software support. And when Samsung decided to ramp up its efforts to compete with BlackBerry in the realm of mobile enterprise and security, it partnered with the incumbent leader instead of taking it on directly.
Conflict always grabs more attention than collaboration. But sometimes tech companies find ways to work in harmony rather than discord, and those occasions are worth acknowledging too. Samsung has rethought every aspect of the way it does business, and its new friendlier attitude looks likely to benefit the Korean company in the long run. It should make for smaller legal bills, if nothing else.