Who is the next king of cool?

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Every decade has its rising stars, cash cows and dying mammoth… Ok, here I am not talking about Darwin or about animals… I am talking about innovative, creative and outstanding companies that reshape the high-tech world.

cool_brands

There are always companies that hook the consumer more than others. If we analyse the high-tech market, life cycles are getting shorter and shorter and companies are also getting a hard time to keep leadership and to keep their image on what I call being the “King of cool”. Follow the timeline…

Alan_Kay_DynabookProbably the first king of cool in history might be Alan Kay at Xerox PARC when he presented the first Laptop idea in 1972 called Dynabook.

IBM presented in 1975 the first commercial portable computer called the IBM 5100. Many others followed like Epson and HP. Some companies worked on different features of what we see today in modern Laptops and in October 1992 IBM launches the THINKPAD 700. the Thinkpad became the symbol of a new generation. Leader companies in the world equiped their top managers with Thinkpads and even NASA brought Thinkpads to Space in 1993. Revolution was really progressing.

Miniaturizing technology became a big topic and the idea of bringing technology to the next level was definitely part of day-to-day agendas for engineers. From this spirit many other segments of the high-tech industry were moving forward: Television, Mobile phones, Hi-Fi Music or Photography. And we could see a continuous cross-fertilization between each one, revealing hybrid objects like Laptops+Telephones= Smartphones. Interesting times.

In terms of Laptop evolution, certain brands got definitely the hook, or let’s say more than others. In terms of Professional laptops, Every 5 years a new brand became the king of cool in terms of portable computers. If we observe the business laptops:

Professional Laptops evolution

We can say that after IBM leading the way with its Thinkpad, many other Brands tried to steel its leadership position. HP was definitely a big competitor bringing a modernization of every Thinkpad generation. HP could have succeeded if DELL did not opened a new way: Customization. DELL speech was unbeatable: Why should you pay for computer components that your employees might not have the usage of it? The era of Customization started. DELL invested all possible fields from Servers to Personal computers and Laptops. DELL strategy was also a strategy based in Growth. That is why DELL purchased a few interesting companies like Alienware (2006), Perot Systems in 2009 or Wyse in 2012. Unfortunately for DELL, they did not invested enough in R&D, and it is obvious that in such race to innovation you cannot survive without R&D. And that’s why in 2006 DELL growth was lower than the PC industry. Since then, they try to keep their positions but it is hard. Especially since the arrival on the market of new big challengers like LENOVO or APPLE.

lenovo_ideatab

For the past 5 years, we only hear about LENOVO, LENOVO, LENOVO. And we can easily understand that when a Chinese company buys in 2005 the entire Personal computer division of IBM, they must have a plan. Since then LENOVO invested massively in advertising and in partnerships. They also developped Mobile phones and Tablets. Their main focus being mobile-internet. Today LENOVO is the biggest vendor of smartphones in China. They invested millions of dollars in a new facility and R&D unit in Wuhan, China.

Apple_macbook_imac

Apple is for sure the biggest success story of the past 10 years and more. Of course the company was founded in 1976 but only since 1998 that the company escalade started. This success was built in solid, outstanding and commercialized top innovation. Their key to success is definitely to bring the most outstanding products possible into the market supported by a high level of innovation investments.

  • 1998: The iMac
  • 2001: Launch of the first iPod and of Mac OS X
  • 2005: Mac Mini revealed
  • 2006: Introduction of the Macbook Pro
  • 2007: Reveal of the first iPhone and AppleTV
  • 2008: Macbook Air
  • 2010: Ipad launch
  • 2012: Iphone 5 and Mini-Ipad

Every single step from Apple in the past years was trying to bring a major breakthrough into the different segments. All creative people and teams around the world working on multimedia, use a Mac. And Apple succeeded to understand the correct position. You can think as a follower if market leadership means leading the way. That’s why today Apple is struggling with their technology. Not only other competitors are pushing hard in terms of innovation, like Samsung, but Apple does not have anymore the King of Cool image. There is also a democratization of the brand that makes it less special than before. Technically speaking, Apple is not anymore at the top. Safari is less performant than Chrome, Maps are much worth than Google’s and the iPhone 5 battery life sucks. I let you read this interesting, yet provocative article from Ed Conway for Business Insider:
http://www.businessinsider.com/dear-apple-im-leaving-you-2012-11 
Still on the laptop segment, but now on the private (non-business) laptops, some interesting movements are also interesting to highlight.
Personal Laptops evolution
Brands like Toshiba or even Sharp tried in the 90’s to install themselves at the top ranking of personal laptops but unfortunately for them, Sony just spashed the industry with the VAIO era. In deed the VAIO line just took over the leasure and entertainment segment for a big part of the 90’s It was the first time that the laptop was not sufficient, it was what you could do with it.
sony-vaio

With every Sony VAIO you would get special tools to manage your videos, photos, music and the integration with other Sony products like the MP3 players and the smartphones was a clever move. VAIO was the most expensive laptop ranges in the market. The brand collaboration with Ericsson on mobile phones also made great days for the japanese brand. From 2004 to 2007, they were market leaders. And since 2008 and the bad financial results, they are more in a survival mode. The entire Sony Brand is by the way in survival mode. Instead of keeping the innovation going, Sony decided to focus on Cost savings. It killed it. Today the best thing can happen to them is to be bought by someone else, either Apple or Samsung. And speeking of these 2 brands, Samsung and Apple are definitely over-mastering the personal laptop market. Some companies like ASUS or ACER are somehow bringing interesting synergies and proposing high-end technologies at an attractive price. But for now they are more followers than innovation leaders.
Apple has an interesting breakthrough among non high-tech people thanks to the iPhone and iPad and their simple interfaces. Grandparents prefer to buy an iPad rather than a computer. It seems easy to use and it is mobile friendly.
Talking about Mobile, one of the most bloody battles of the past 5 years it is the mobile phone industry. Since mobility and internet everywhere became huge topics, all brands battle for a piece of the big cake. One brand chasing the other as a consequently evolution of things. Who is going to launch the coolest phone ever invented? All the big brands try to answer this question every 6 month now.
Mobile Phones evolution
After the first generation of mobile phones that were more a kind of high-tech mockups more than real innovations, 3 brands definitely started building the modern business of mobile phones: Sony-Ericsson, Nokia and Motorola. Nokia got a faster move and became the biggest mobile phone vendor in the world from 2008 to 2012. While Motorola was trying hard to become Nokia Challenger, then RIM launched in 1999 the first Blackberry 850 as an email pager.
Blackberry 850 1999
Huge success. The canadian Brand developped then other models yet always keeping the spirit of mobile email machine! In 3 years more than 200 million Blackberries were sold in the world and RIM imposed its smartphone as a standard within companies and business tools.
blackberry_range
With the evolution of internet towards a more interactive, multimedia and mobile philosophy based on quality of content and user experience, RIM got over-passed by Apple and Samsung. Now RIM needs to redefine the company strategy and re-position themselves. Otherwise they become followers and in this business, followers die.
Mobile_phones_sales_figures_2012
If there is one unique thing about Apple mobile activity is the fact they are the only mobile phone brand in the world with one telephone model, the iPhone. Originally called “Project Purple”, when in 2004 a team of 1000 people was gathered, revolution was on going.

  • iPhone Original: June 29th 2007
  • iPhone 3G: July 11th 2008
  • iPhone 3GS: June 19th 2009
  • iPhone 4: June 24th 2010
  • iPhone 4S: October 14th 2011
  • iPhone 5: September 21st 2012

The Apple iPhone definitely changed the way to see mobility. But the power of the iPhone is not on the fact it is the best high-tech device in the world (it is not) it is on what can you do with it. For the first time, a high-tech company focused more on the end user rather than in the device performances itself. With more than 1 billion downloads in the app store, the iPhone became the biggest multimedia center ever. Up to now we can count more than 108 million units sold in the world.
iphone_family
Yet, we can feel that other competitors like Samsung are pushing hard in terms of innovation and user experience. And because Apple lives now on the comfort of its market positioning, they are definitely less and less the king of cool. Apple also got tremendous failures like the Apple TV. Only Apple freaks would buy one and even though, they might buy something else. This year rumors talked about the first Apple Television set under the collaboration with Philip Stark. But as Apple is attacked from many sides, it is hard to enter such saturated market segment as television.
Tv Sets evolution
During many years brands like Philips, Thomson and Grundig dominated the market for cathodic tubes televisions. The revolution came with the flat-screens era. A brand like Pioneer and Panasonic became strong brands in Plasma technology and many other brands like Sharp, Toshiba and Samsung were late on that.
pioneer plasma screen
While Panasonic and Pioneer focused a lot on the professional usage of their screens (probably also a cost issue), Sony was the first Brand to fully embrace the public multimedia trend and the development of home-cinemas. Sony developed quite agressive offers by proposing advanced technologies and high qualitative displays at a more affordable price than Pioneer. They also used the push of VAIOS and Sony-Ericsson phones to bring a Sony lifestyle to people’s homes.
What we could not see is that Samsung was one of the firsts to invest massively in R&D for LCD screens. For years, LCD was considered an inferior technology compared to Plasma but since the latest evolutions on LCD and especially since the development of LED technology, Plasma seems a pre-historical technology with no future. And for that, Samsung got a more advanced position.
Samsung LED Serie 9 UE75ES9080
LED Series 9. 75″ 1920×1080 3D, Clear motion rate 800
They have today the finest screens and have integrated many other features. Samsung understood, as Sony in the 90’s and Apple in the years 2000, that the device is nothing. It is what you can do with it that makes the difference. So if you buy a Samsung television, there are certains things you do not find at the competition. SMART TV: a full box of features, apps that can bring your television to a different level of multimedia. With its own app store, Samsung Smart TV became the most fast growing e-store in the world. Family and leasure driven, easy to access and efficient, the Smart TV has also sharing technologies between your Samsung laptop and smartphone. Companies like Audi, built dedicated apps for the smart TV, which shows the interest for brands to be in the heart of families attention. Samsung also developped another key feature called Smart Evolution. Basically you buy a Samsung TV one year and then, you can update and upgrade your technology every year without changing TV. Only by downloading and adding the latest Samsung Smart Evolution kit. It is a clever move, especially today as some companies like Apple are accused of voluntary programmed obsolescence.
So, with all this which Brands should we pay attention to, as probably may become the next king of cool? Here is a mapping done at Luxuryactivist by José Amorim, high-tech native. It places different important high-tech brands under 2 dimensions taken from their marketing strategies:
Business partners vs Leasure buddies
Technical experts vs Lifestyle icons
High_tech_companies_mapping

While very specialized companies like Cisco, Bang & Olufsen or even Nintendo keep their sales on track, generalists like Apple, Samsung, LG or Panasonic are completely “swimming with sharks”. So who is going to be the next king of cool? Complicate to say.

In 2013, more than 200 million people will connect for the first time to the internet. This means that a big majority of them will be sensitive to which brand will be talking to them without any past background. Today Samsung with its “Inspired by nature and designed for Humans” took a big lead in many segments. We also understand that Mobile phones are often the entry product of a Brand. You start with the phone, then you get the laptop and finally the TV. At least we can see that this model made the success of Sony in the 90’s and of Apple in the years 2000. Samsung seems to lead the way today on customer experience but is it sufficient?

Being king of cool is not just a marketing claim, it means we target 2 interesting audiences in terms of brand recommendation: Opinion leaders and early adopters. These 2 categories are the ones influencing the majority of the high-tech market. So if a high-tech company wishes to lead the way within the next decade, this company needs to be adopted by the “cool guys around”. These will function as recommendation leverage towards the mass. So here are the 3 Brands to watch out.

SAMSUNG
Of course that since the launch of the Galaxy III phone, the LED screens, the new laptops and tablets under Windows 8 and all the inter-connection between photo cameras, smartphones and televisions via the Smart Interface…. well, Samsung will be up there for sure as the biggest democratic entertainer brand.
smart-tv

HUAWEI
Founded in 1988, Huawei specialized on telecommunications and networks. Today they have more than 1400 patents registered and invest over 4 billion US in R&D. So this Chinese brand located in the heart of Shenzhen, the chinese Palo Alto, will definitely surprise us in the future.
huawei

 

MICROSOFT
Since the moment Microsoft understood that usability is key (unfortunately for 4 generations of users it happened only 3 years ago), we might see a revival by the end user. Windows 8 is finally a stable, refined and quite good operation system. Microsoft Surface program with the interactive tables and tablets opened new opportunities for the company. And we should not forget the gaming industry. Gamers only use PC with Windows base systems and the X-Box is definitely here to stay…
Microsoft_Surface

So, for you what is the next king of cool?
LA

 

Info sourced at brands official websites, business insider, financial times, NY times, Wikipedia and luxuryactivist teams. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available. 

José Amorim

José Amorim has been working in the luxury industry for more than 15 years. In the past 8 years, he joined his personal passion for digital culture and his luxury background to develop digital strategies for premium brands. He is the founder of LuxuryActivist.com and is happy to share his passion here.