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The Galaxy S III: Samsung’s next flagship phone?

Posted by arnon_k On April - 20 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

(Wired) — Samsung emailed, tweeted and blogged Monday about a May 3 event in which reporters are being invited to “come and meet the next Galaxy.” At this shindig in London, we expect Samsung to unveil the Samsung Galaxy S III — though where this smartphone sits in Samsung’s larger handset ecosystem isn’t entirely clear.

The Galaxy S III would be the successor to the Galaxy S II, which was never a single phone, but rather a lineup of devices with varying internal specs and exterior designs for different countries and carriers. Shoot, even the S II’s display sizes varied, with both 4.3-inch and 4.5-inch screens.

And while the Galaxy S II has been the flagship Samsung Android device for AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, the nation’s largest carrier, Verizon, has avoided the S II altogether. Instead, Verizon has gone all-in with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first handset to boast the Android 4.0 operating system.

By all accounts, the Galaxy Nexus is currently Samsung’s best Android phone, its single-carrier limitation notwithstanding. But what will happen when the Galaxy S III is released?

This question, too, is complicated by the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note, which has been a surprise hit for Samsung. More than 5 million Galaxy Note units have shipped worldwide — and this is a phone that runs on the horribly antiquated Android 2.3 (Gingerbread).

With Samsung making so many phones for different markets, carriers and countries, it’s difficult to figure out just where the Galaxy S III will reside in Samsung’s line-up, says Ross Rubin, executive director of the NPD Group market research firm.

“Samsung is producing a number of of high-end smartphones with leading-edge specs and, yes, that does make it tough to figure out which one their flagship phone is,” Rubin told Wired. “But Samsung is one of the few companies out there that can make a lot of different phones with different functionality, geared toward different markets, that can all be considered flagship phones somewhere.”

Regardless, when the Galaxy S III is unveiled, the smartphone will be worthy of flagship status for at least a few carriers, Rubin said.

“The idea behind the Galaxy Nexus is to provide a pure Google Android experience,” he said. “The Galaxy Note, which has the largest screen size of any handset in a major U.S. carrier portfolio, is clearly about maximum screen real estate and the S-Pen for notes, annotation and drawing. Each device has its trade offs and Samsung is trying to have something out there for most anyone.”

Rubin says the Galaxy S and S II have been about reaching as many consumers as possible, and the S III will likely be that type of phone as well, Rubin said.

“The reason there are so many versions of the Galaxy S II, and the Galaxy S before it, is because the Galaxy S line is about establishing a high-end baseline and having broad carrier reach,” he said. “The whole point is to sell as many of those phones as possible, so what they’re going for is top-of-the-line specs, but also mainstream consumer needs.”

Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner analyst, says Samsung should be less worried about where the S III lives in its broader line-up than how it stacks up against the S II, which hit U.S. shores last fall.

Conventional wisdom says the Galaxy S III will have a 4.7-inch screen, quad-core processor, an 8+MP camera, 4G connectivity and (of course) a custom, Samsung-skinned version of Android 4.0. The Galaxy S II had almost-as-large screens, a dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel rear camera, and 4G data support.

“If the Galaxy S III is just like the Galaxy S II, but with slightly better specifications, then I think Samsung will have a tough time selling it as differentiated product,” Milanesi said. “If that’s what Samsung releases, the question will be, Can Samsung do what Apple does so well, with a refresh of an existing phone?”

She makes a compelling point: When you compare the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S, Apple’s hardware specs are remarkably similar. In effect, Apple’s most successful phone launch ever was built on the back of an extra CPU core, an improved camera, and a clever voice-recognition system with natural language comprehension (Siri).

“Samsung’s brand is not Apple-strong yet,” Milanesi said. “I don’t know if Samsung will ever reach that emotional level for the brand from the consumer standpoint. And that’s what makes this question of ‘Will the Galaxy S III be a big flagship phone?’ so tricky. The Galaxy S II already has what most consumers are looking for from an Android phone.”

Samsung’s best chance at making the Galaxy S III a success would be introducing a ground-breaking new technology, she said.

“I don’t think phones can get that much thinner, and I don’t think they need to get much bigger,” Milanesi said. “If Samsung can release a phone with a flexible display, something they’ve been experimenting with for awhile now, then they’d be far ahead of the curve. If they don’t do something like that, they might have a hard time getting enough people to see the Galaxy S III as a truly differentiated product.”

(Reuters) – When Samsung Electronics rushed its first smartphone to market in a panicky response to the smash-hit debut of the Apple iPhone, some customers burned the product on the streets or hammered it to bits in public displays of disaffection.

Complaints ranged from dropped calls and a clunky touchscreen to frequent auto rebooting and a dearth of applications.

“It was just awful,” said Kim Sang-uk, 27, who bought the Omnia in late-2009 just before starting his first job. “I just wanted to throw it away, but couldn’t because I was on a 2-year contract. It was the kind of phone where you’d say ‘no’, even if someone gave it to you for free.”

Samsung Mobile President JK Shin admitted it was a tough time. The company had seen a 1 trillion won ($885 million) profit in its telecom sector in the first quarter of 2010 halved in the following quarter after Apple Inc’s latest iPhone took the market by storm.

“We were facing a really serious crisis,” Shin said later.

SOAP VS PERFUME

Yet on the 9th floor of Samsung Electronics headquarters in Seoul housing the mobile division’s design center, Lee Minhyouk said he was not feeling the heat. Samsung Mobile’s vice president for design and his team were already working on its next smartphone, the Galaxy, and this would be truly a worthy opponent to the iPhone.

Samsung has sold 44 million Galaxy units since its launch in June 2010 on its way to displacing Apple last year as the world’s top-selling smartphone maker. Its success evolved from the Omnia, said Lee, who at 40 is the company’s youngest senior executive.

“Without Omnia and Samsung’s previous models, there would have been no Galaxys. There’s a design link among these products,” he said in an interview at his office. “They shouldn’t be viewed as fragmental design. They share our deep deliberation on technology, color and design language.”

Samsung’s checkered entry into the smartphone market is emblematic of the South Korean conglomerate’s strengths and weaknesses.

Its strategy has always been to be the “fast executioner”, the first in the market with a copycat product when a new opportunity is presented. But it is not known as a great innovator or a company like Apple that can literally create a new market with an iconic product.

To become a truly innovative company, Samsung needs to explore the art, as well as the science, of what it does, critics say.

“Samsung is like a fantastic soap maker,” said Christian Lindholm, chief innovation officer of service design consultancy Fjord based in Finland. “Their products get you clean, lathers well. However, they do not know how to make perfumes, an industry where margins are significantly higher. Perfume is an experience. Perfume is meant to seduce, make you attractive and feel good. You love your perfume, but you like your soap.”

Designing something people can love is an art, which requires risk taking and is based more on experience than data. “Samsung needs to learn to lead more. They analyze all creativity to death, they lack self confidence,” Lindholm said.

“Korea has to leap into the experience industry,” he added. “I think they have only five years before they are the new Japan, outmaneuvered by the Chinese who are quickly learning the soap business.”

EVOLUTION VS CREATION

Lee’s office atmosphere and his comments seem to reinforce an image of a company whose culture leans more to evolution than big-bang creationism.

His design sanctum looks much like any other Samsung department, a Dilbert sprawl of desks and cubicles with framed aphorisms from the founding family on the walls: “Be with Customers” and “Create Products that Contribute to Humanity” and also this one: “Challenge the World, Create the Future”.

The office may lack the exotic art, exercise balls and creative toys of Silicon Valley decor, but Lee and his team are borrowing some start-up techniques for tapping the design muses.

Lee, who has acquired the moniker of “Midas” for his golden touch with the Galaxy series, has travelled to Brazil’s Iguazu Falls and the ancient city of Cuzco in Peru for inspiration. Samsung sends the design team on such trips across the world to stoke their imaginary fires.

Images or emotions they pick up on these trips can be “naturally expressed in design languages or lines and colors”, said Lee, who started out designing cars for Samsung’s failed auto joint venture with Renault in the 1990s.

The design process can also be more mundane, he adds.

“Designing is just part of your life. You study, do some research on future trends and experience stuff you haven’t done before. All this stuff interacts to create a new design.”

If money was the answer to innovation then Samsung Electronics would certainly rank among the best in the world. Samsung spent 10 trillion won ($9 billion) on research and development in 2011.

Indeed, the annual Bloomberg BusinessWeek survey of most innovative companies ranks Samsung 11th on its list of top-50 most innovative companies, though it trails local rival LG Electronics in 7th and Sony in 10th.

Part of Samsung’s design philosophy is to leverage the conglomerate’s ability to manufacture inhouse the components in its products, including microchips and flat screens – an advantage over Apple for instance, which has to outsource most of that.

Samsung readily acknowledges it has yet to attain Apple’s innovative spark. And Lee concedes he is no match – yet – for Jonathan Ive, the genius designer behind the distinctive look and feel of Apple’s range of phones, tablets and other must-have consumer gadgets.

By most accounts, Ive’s success at Apple stemmed from his close personal relationship with Steve Jobs – a classic marriage between gizmo-maker and entrepreneur.

Lee, who said he has never met Ive, has a more corporate relationship with top managers at Samsung. He believes, however, that paradigmatic breakthroughs are a matter of the right product coming at the right time.

“I might not be at (Ive’s) level yet, but I believe Samsung will produce such iconic products one day. It’s not just effort that makes it possible for a new product to be a massive hit. It also has to be timely, and technology should be ready to make a certain design a reality.”

APPLE APTITUDE

That Samsung might eventually wind up with some Apple aptitude has to worry company executives at its Cupertino, California headquarters.

Samsung and Apple are locked in an escalating global patent battle, as they jostle for top position in the booming smartphone and tablet markets. Apple fired the first salvo in April last year, arguing Samsung had “slavishly” copied its iPad and iPhone. Since then both have taken legal action against each other in several countries claiming patent infringements.

Lee takes personal affront at the copycat charge.

“I’ve made thousands of sketches and hundreds of prototype products (for the Galaxy). Does that mean I was putting on a mock show for so long, pretending to be designing?”

“As a designer, there’s an issue of dignity. (The Galaxy) is original from the beginning, and I’m the one who made it. It’s a totally different product with a different design language and different technology infused.”

And a different marketing approach. While Apple has a simple product line-up for the iPhone and iPad, Samsung has bombarded the market with varieties of the Galaxy, the Wave phone, which uses Samsung’s own ‘bada’ platform, and most recently with a phone-tablet.

Lee sees no harm in this tweaking-rather-than-innovating approach, saying it plays to the company’s corporate strengths.

Samsung’s vertically integrated structure allows it to use prototype components and new technology developed elsewhere in the company in the design lab. The company has overseas design labs to help uncover consumer trends in the various global markets in which it competes.

Designers have to be integrators, researching user behavior, discovering what’s happening in the market, as well as searching for a unique aesthetic, Lee says.

“As a designer, my job is to blend new functions and technology with aesthetic beauty, as far as possible.”

“There are different teams studying new technology trends, working on future design trends and Samsung’s own design identity, and they’re all regularly exchanging ideas with designers.”

FAB-LET?

Lee’s latest project – a follow-up to the Galaxy model called the Note – is a mini-tablet and phone, with a throwback stylus. Although it looks huge compared with a standard phone, its pinpoint apps and high definition screen should please those using it for video and gaming.

The phone-tablet – or phablet – has sold more than 2 million units since its October launch, and was a crowd pleaser at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.

Lee said the design risk with the note was “breaking a taboo” about keeping handsets small enough to fit easily in your hand.

“But smartphones are more about entertainment. The Note was created by simply breaking that taboo and focusing more on the new functions that smartphones require.”

Handsets are now Samsung’s biggest earner – bringing in 8.3 trillion won ($7.4 billion) in operating profit last year – and the group’s confidence has grown in tandem with its fattening patent book – it registered over 5,000 patents last year alone.

“We were told so many times until the early part of last year that Samsung is not good at software. We’re not hearing that as often any more,” Samsung Chief Executive Choi Gee-sung said at the CES event in Las Vegas. Late last month, Choi went further and told reporters at the world’s biggest annual mobile show in Barcelona that Samsung would not unveil its new Galaxy model at the Mobile World Congress for fear of rivals copying it.

Yet there’s not one software engineer or designer among the 17 Samsung Fellows, Samsung Group’s inhouse equivalent of the Nobel prize winners to reward those making a significant contribution to its success. Lee hopes his time will come.

“I’m confident that one day Samsung will make a product that defines our time, and I hope it’s one of mine.”

($1 = 1129.5500 Korean won)

(Additional reporting by Tarmo Virki in HELSINKI; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Ian Geoghegan)

(This story was refiled to correct speaker’s gender in paragraph 14)

Samsung said it didn’t make ad that angered Iranians

Posted by arnon_k On February - 4 - 2012 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Senior Iranian lawmakers are considering a boycott of Samsung, the South Korean electronics and appliance manufacturer, because of a controversial Israeli ad that pokes fun at the nuclear crisis, state-run Press TV of Iran said Friday.

Samsung, meanwhile, said it had nothing to do with the commercial.

The spot plays off the widely held belief that Israel is behind a series of recent explosions and assassinations connected with Iran’s nuclear program.

It shows actors from the popular Israeli comedy series “AsFur,” dressed as Iranian women and sporting facial hair, meeting up with an agent from Mossad, Israel’s version of the CIA. The women discuss a Samsung tablet with the bored Mossad agent and, by hitting an application on the tablet, accidentally blow up a neighboring nuclear facility.

The television spot was produced by HOT, an Israeli cable company that was offering the Samsung product free with a subscription.

One version of the ad, on HOT’s website, does not feature the name Samsung on the digital tablet. A video posted on YouTube, however, does include the logo.

“Samsung Electronics is aware of a recent news report in Iranian media regarding an advertisement aired by HOT cable network of Israel,” Samsung said in a statement. “This advertisement was produced by HOT cable network without Samsung’s knowledge or participation.”

A spokeswoman for HOT declined to comment.

Iranian leaders were not amused.

Press TV said the commercial “implies that Israel is powerful enough to easily destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities or assassinate the country’s nuclear scientists.”

The head of Majlis Energy Committee, Arsalan Fat’hipour, could declare a “double-urgency” campaign and impose a “complete ban on buying all Samsung products,” according to Press TV.

Iran and Israel have been engaging in an increasingly heated war of words about the possibility of Israel striking Iranian nuclear facilities. At a security conference Thursday, Israel’s defense minister again talked about a potential strike.

“Dealing with a nuclear Iran will be far more complex, far more dangerous and far more expensive in blood and money than stopping it today,” he said. “In other words, those who say in English ‘later’ may find later is too late.”

At Friday prayers in Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hit back.

“The Zionist regime is really the cancerous tumor of this region and needs to be removed and will be removed,” he said to applause.

Samsung plans hybrid cameras, seeks big sales rise

Posted by arnon_k On January - 12 - 2012 1 COMMENT

(Reuters) – Samsung Electronics Co aims to more than quadruple sales of small, interchangeable lens cameras this year, as it seeks to move up-market to compete with stronger Japanese rivals amid stagnating growth in the compact camera segment.

A growing number of camera makers are introducing “mirrorless” interchangeable lens cameras, boosting competition in a market already crowded with competitors like Olympus Corp, Sony Corp and Nikon Corp, although they have so far had a mixed track record of success.

“We plan to introduce a couple of new lineups in the first half and aggressively boost sales of mirrorless cameras, with expanded portfolios to include cheaper models,” Han Myoung-sup, head of Samsung’s digital camera operation, told Reuters in an interview.

Han said Samsung hopes to sell 500,000 mirrorless cameras this year, up sharply from last year’s 120,000.

Japan’s Canon Inc and Nikon dominate the market for the hefty single-lens reflex cameras used by professional photographers and enthusiasts, and mirrorless cameras pack many of the benefits of those high-end models into smaller bodies.

Mirrorless camera makers are now targeting consumers who are seeking to move upmarket from compact cameras, but unwilling to carry around a hefty interchangeable lens model.

They are also hoping to sell lucrative accessories such as lenses, as growth in the compact camera market stagnates, partly due to growing sales of camera-equipped smartphones and tablets.

NO ACQUISITIONS

Camera and digital imaging is one of smallest businesses of Samsung, and the South Korean firm aims to grow the operation to the ranks of its more successful television, smartphone and memory chips units and generate synergies with its recently added business of medical equipment.

“It’s a tough market as Japanese makers have been traditionally very strong and continue to dominate the market. But as a consumer electronics company, Samsung does have an advantage. We can capitalize on our deep electronics technology pool and offer easy connectivity with a variety of our consumer devices,” Han said.

Samsung unveiled Wi-Fi enabled cameras at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, which would make it easier for consumers to send pictures from cameras to smartphones, computers and TVs.

Han said Samsung is not interested in acquiring Japanese camera makers, including troubled camera and endoscope maker Olympus, in a bid to jump-start its growth.

“There’ll be not much to gain from doing M&As, as we already have strong brand value.”

Mirrorless cameras have large sensors, giving good picture quality, but no optical viewfinders, enabling manufacturers to keep the camera body smaller and lighter by leaving the mirror out of the structure.

The nascent market is the fastest growing camera segment, but top-end digital camera makers such as Canon, the world’s top maker of interchangeable lens camera maker, have been slow to enter the market, fearing the segment may eat into their stronghold — SLRs.

The new format is popular in Japan, where consumers tend to value easily portable products, but has so far sold less well in North America and Europe.

Mirrorless cameras accounted for 31 percent of all interchangeable lens models sold in Japan in 2010 but only 10 percent in the United States, according to research firm IDC.

Samsung owns only 2 percent of the global interchangeable lens camera market, which is dominated by Canon, Nikon and Sony.

(Reporting by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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