The new Samsung Galaxy Watch shown at a Samsung product launch event in Brooklyn, New York.
Photo credit: Lucas Jackson—Reuters
By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
August 10, 2018

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In the Steve Jobs era, a sort of sad thing would happen to competitors all the time.

One example, from about 10 years ago, bit Microsoft. The iPod had been a hit for a while when the software colossus of Redmond decided it was time to join the party. The Zune, introduced by Bill Gates at a big kickoff event in September, 2006, matched the iPod almost feature for feature, included song sharing with friends over Wi-Fi, and had one of the earliest music subscription plans dubbed the ZunePass. And it got pretty great reviews; CNET said it was “a very good start” and its future was “a bright one.”

Then Jobs came out with the iPhone and, a few months later, the iPod Touch. (Although he spent a staggering amount of time at that event showing how to turn songs into ringtones.) That killed the Zune’s momentum, and sales never really took off.

Some people like to whine that Apple is not as innovative as it used to be back in the Jobs era, but it sure feels like the competition is about to get Zuned. Apple hasn’t announced its September event yet, but it’s widely expected for around September 11 with rumored new iPhone and an Apple Watch on tap and maybe a smart speaker addition, too.

Samsung tried to get the jump on Apple on Thursday with its “Unpacked” event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Standing on the home court of one of the NBA’s losing-est basketball teams (the Nets), Samsung’s head of mobile D.J. Koh offered a new Galaxy Note 9 phone, a Galaxy Watch, and a smart speaker dubbed the Galaxy Home. But everything felt like a minor follow-on. The Note had no new major features. (Koh told the Wall Street Journal he stayed away from cutting edge features to avoid a repeat of the Note 7 battery debacle.) The watch got LTE cellular connectivity (like last year’s Apple Watch) and a smaller size better for women’s wrists (like the 2015 original Apple Watch). And the speaker, which doesn’t have a price or release date, looks much like Apple’s not-quite-a-flop HomePod.

I don’t think Tim Cook & Co. will have too much trouble dribbling past that line up.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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