beats-I-mean-level-headphones

I like to imagine that somewhere deep within the bowels of Samsung’s headquarters there is a person suspended in a mysterious liquid whose job is to predict the future in time for the company to develop an innovative product ahead of its competition. The problem with this imaginary fortune teller is that reality tells a very different story. It appears that the closest thing to a Samsung pre-cog is someone hitting refresh on the “Hot News” section of Apple’s website.

Surely that’s the most rational explanation for Samsung’s decision to release a line of premium headphones just a few months after Apple’s May announcement announced that it was acquiring Beats for $3 billion, which offers its own overpriced headphones in addition to a streaming music service. I mean, it’s not like one of the world’s largest technology companies would so closely suddenly follow its greatest competitor into an already-saturated market after conducting actual research, right?

Seems like a case of “anything you can do, I can do shortly after.”

Either way, I suppose we’re stuck with this bizarro reality, which is that the world’s leading consumer electronics companies competing in the overpriced headphone market instead of doing literally anything else with their vast fortunes. It doesn’t help that those headphones are meant to complement streaming music services that themselves launched a few years too late to their own saturated market.

As I wrote when Samsung introduced ads to its horribly-named Milk Music service in April:

The service doesn’t even offer its own music catalog: the Samsung blog post announcing the coming advertisements and premium accounts displays a prominent “Powered by Slacker” logo at the very bottom. (It also says that there are three things people should know about Milk Music before offering far more than three things in its body text and the humongous infographic.)

Congratulations, Samsung. You just announced a Pandora clone almost two decades after the original was founded, and almost one decade after streaming music services like Spotify were created. Looks like it’s time to rock out to your “Day Late and a Dollar Short” playlist.

Samsung wants to apply this winning strategy to headphones, too, it seems. It doesn’t matter that analysts have already questioned its position in the smartphone market, where its entire strategy amounts to “copy other companies,” as the company’s smartphone sales fell in the second fiscal quarter of this year in the fact of rising competition from Chinese manufacturers. It also doesn’t appear matter, or register within Samsung HQ that Beats headphones have sold largely because of their association with celebrities. It seems like the only thing that matters is copying Apple.

Maybe it’s time for the company to rethink its “fortune teller” strategy and focus on fostering a unique vision for the future instead of trying — and largely failing — to fast-follow other companies with only cosmetically different versions of their products. Just a thought.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]