Apple's Complicated Relationship With Samsung: 10 Issues to Understand

NEWS ANALYSIS: Apple and Samsung have an odd relationship in which these fierce competitors continue to do business with each other despite pursuing bitter patent lawsuits against each other.

Apple’s relationship with Samsung is difficult to understand. The companies undoubtedly hate each other and have the battle scars from countless lawsuits to prove it. However, they have been partners in the production of several Apple products. Despite repeated calls for both sides to come to terms, they both seem content to continue their litigation even though it doesn’t really seem to be giving either side any decisive advantage.

On the outside looking in, Apple’s relationship with Samsung is just, well, odd. Why would a company that seemingly despises another be so willing to play nice at times? Admittedly, that might have more to do with necessity than choice, but it illustrates an important point: in the world of tech, not even a contentious relationship can be allowed to get in the way of sound business practices.

So, it’s with that understanding that we examine a sometimes strange, sometimes bitter relationship between Apple and Samsung that has become the backdrop on which today’s consumers make their smartphone and tablet decisions.

Read on to learn more:

1. They’re tops

If Apple and Samsung weren’t both dominating the mobile space, there really wouldn’t be much to talk about. But the companies are both dominating the space. And because of that, they have targets on each other’s backs. Until that changes, which is unlikely, don’t expect there to be much love lost between the companies.

2. Patent lawsuits keep coming

Patent litigation has greatly overshadowed the mobile industry’s growth and innovation. Unfortunately, Apple and Samsung are arguably the two biggest culprits when it comes to launching lawsuits. For companies that have worked closely together, it would seem odd that they would be so willing to fire off so many lawsuits. But that is precisely what those companies are doing.

3. They’re partners…sort of

But despite the relentless litigation, Apple and Samsung are business partners. Samsung has been supplying Apple with processors for the very mobile products that are the focus of the patent lawsuits it has filed against the iPhone maker. Even though Apple has moved to reduce its dependence on Samsung components for its mobile products the degree of legal acrimony is still odd.

4. They can compartmentalize

Although Apple and Samsung might hate each other, they’re actually quite close partners. As noted, Samsung has delivered processors to Apple, requiring the companies to work close together on new products. Apple has even acknowledged that having some semblance of a relationship with Samsung is important. Both companies have become masters at compartmentalizing for their greater good.

5. They care little about others

If Apple and Samsung have anything in common, it’s that they really don’t care about other mobile vendors. Both companies know they’re dominant and they don’t waste too much time bullying other firms. Apple has a lawsuit against Motorola and has turned a cold shoulder to Google for getting into the mobile phone market, but other than that, there’s really nothing that draws them to the throats of other firms.

6. They both tolerate Google

Both Apple and Samsung have been forced to tolerate Google. Samsung plays nice with the search giant so it can get Nexus devices on store shelves, thereby beating competitors that might want to take advantage of Google’s extra marketing effort. Apple tolerates Google by allowing the company to offer Android without actually launching a lawsuit against it. That might change soon, but at least so far, Apple is content with targeting Android vendors and not the company that actually develops the software.

7. It’s worsening

Apple’s relationship with Samsung appears to be worsening. Apple is systematically reducing its reliance on Samsung components. Samsung designed and manufactureed the A5 and A5X processors. With the A6, the company only had Samsung produce the processor. Is that a sign of things to come?

8. The competition is expanding to other areas

There’s a general sense out there that Apple and Samsung really only battle in the mobile space. And for a while, that was true. But rumors abound that Apple is considering entirely dumping Samsung from its processor development. In addition, Samsung is trying to take on Apple in the computing space with lightweight notebooks. There’s even talk of Apple launching a television to take on Samsung, which currently ships the most sets of any company in the world. The competition is expanding. Fast.

9. They continue fighting because it doesn’t hurt business

If the patent lawsuits and public denunciations actually hurt Apple’s or Samsung’s business, you can bet that they would stop. But as recent performances have shown, consumers are just fine with the companies warring. Apple continues to generate billions of dollars each quarter and Samsung revealed recently that its third-quarter operating profit was about $8.1 trillion Korean won ($7.3 billion), nearly double the profit reported in the same quarter last year. It appears whatever these companies are doing, it’s working.

10. Samsung is just the flavor of the week

Looking back at the history of Apple market battles, it’s possible that the war with Samsung won’t last much longer. It seems that every few years, Apple finds a new company to hate. At one point, it was Microsoft, and then it was Google when Eric Schmidt left the company’s board. Now, it’s Samsung. Granted, a big company can hate multiple competitors at once, but Apple typically doesn’t operate that way. The iPhone maker has historically taken the brunt of its fight to one company at a time. It’s quite possible its attention will soon shift as it reportedly branches into other areas, like televisions.

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Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...