Did Google and Samsung do what Apple wouldn't?
Yesterday, after having raised anticipation with event invite, video and other teasers, Google and Samsung delayed the presumed launch of Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) and Nexus Prime (or whatever the smartphone is called). The announcement is hugely important to both companies -- really more than iPhone 4S is to Apple -- because Ice Cream Sandwich closes the fork between Android 2.x for phones and 3.x for tablets. Reason for cancelling the October 11 event: "We believe this is not the right time to announce a new product as the world expresses tribute to Steve Jobs's passing". So what? Google and Samsung show respect for Jobs, but Apple doesn't?
Apple announced iPhone 4S on October 4. A day later, the company revealed that Jobs, Apple's chairman and until late-August its CEO, had died. The world is mourning the loss of one of the rarest of humans -- a true visionary who compelled loyalty among the people closest to him and those who used Apple's products, in part by aspiring for something better. How does Apple remember Jobs? By keeping business as usual.
News of Jobs death came late-day on October 5. My colleagues and I couldn't really discuss it until the following day. When everyone was online in group chat I chimed: "Now comes the test of the new management's character. I would delay iPhone 4S launch a week out of respect". That's exactly what Google and Samsung chose to do, for even longer, but not Apple. iPhone 4S presales started yesterday as planned, with the handset coming to stores starting October 14.
"Business is Business"?
Yesterday, I asked Ed Oswald to write the post you're reading now, proposing the headline above. Ed sees things differently, however, and I respect his perspective. Debate is good and fits one of the fundamental principles of good journalism: Provide perspective. News doesn't lay out in linear fashion. That's why we seek to answer in stories: who, what, when, where and why and use multiple sources to present the information. Ed presents one viewpoint on the Google-Samsung product launch delay, now I give another. We don't agree.
"It's just dumb from a business aspect", Ed asserts about Google and Samsung's cancelled event and continues:
Any delay can and will hurt sales of your device. If you're going to hold off on its release, you better have a damn good reason to do it. I know there's a lot of us out there who respect Jobs -- this journalist included -- but even he would say business is business, and probably also told his people not to stop his own company's plans over his death.
I commend Samsung and Google for being respectful in a time like this, but I will most definitely scorn them for making a move that seemingly lacks in business logic. Sometimes you overreact in grief, and this is certainly one of those moments.
From one perspective, Ed is right. Businesses don't operate by the same moral agenda as the people running or working for them. For public companies the first obligation is to shareholders, who demand more profits. While Apple stock didn't plummet following news of Jobs' death, iPhone 4S delay could certainly send jitters over the share price and would rob shareholders of a week's profits so close to the holidays. Launching October 21 in the first seven countries would push into November the iPhone 4S debut in the next 22 countries.
Principles before Profits
But Steve Jobs isn't anyone. He is an iconic figure, undeniably, whether or not you liked him, Apple or its products. Jobs is someone mourned globally, as seen by the makeshift shrines outside Apple retail stores, which have come to be places of vigil for people remembering him. Few men will be so mourned, so idolized as Jobs in our lifetimes.
Even in the cold, heartless world of profit-driven business, people are given time to mourn -- days off from work following the death of family members or even friends. People are allowed time to grieve. Companies show their respect to employees by giving this time (yes, even when local laws require it). We all know or will know someone who has died, and will someday pass ourselves.
Google and Samsung have good reasons to show their respect to Jobs.
Confucianism widely impacts the culture of South Korea, Samsung's home country. In Confucianism, filial-piety is the highest virtue -- it's a concept of showing respect for elders, particularly familiar members and to ancestors. South Korean funerals are highly ritualistic and respectful. It's not surprising that Samsung executives would choose to respect Jobs' passing. Apple is a large Samsung customer, of components for iPad and iPhone.
Google's reasons are different. Google has longstanding ties to Apple and directly to Jobs. Some of the most prominent Googlers worked for Apple and directly with Jobs. Android creator Andy Rubin is a formal Apple employee. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was on Apple's board of directors and interacted closely with Jobs. These are people mourning someone they knew or worked closely with.
Something else: Google is rare among public companies for operating around a clear set of principles -- epitomized in the list of "10 Things". Google has put principles before business before, when in January the company stopped censoring search share in China. Microsoft's Bing later benefited from the action.
Ed's assertion that "business is business" is bunk. Google and Samsung show respect for Jobs' passing in ways the Apple hasn't -- and should have. The new management has failed the test of character I put before my colleagues two days ago.