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Samsung grows ever bigger, but icon status elusive

Monday, October 3, 2011

If you own a consumer electronics gadget, there's a good chance something from Samsung makes it tick.

A woman passes by the banner of Samsung Electronics' new smartphones Galaxy S II LTE, left, and Galaxy S II HD LTE during its unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea last month.
Lee Jin-man, AP
A woman passes by the banner of Samsung Electronics' new smartphones Galaxy S II LTE, left, and Galaxy S II HD LTE during its unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea last month.

The company has traveled far from its roots as a seller of cheap appliances in the 1970s and 1980s when South Korean products were more likely to be panned than praised internationally.
Over those decades it has grown to become the world's biggest manufacturer of memory chips and LCDs — key components that let PCs, digital music players and smartphones store data and display it on flat, high-resolution screens. And they are inside the company's own finished consumer products such as its top selling TVs and No. 2-ranked smartphones.
But Samsung still has a perception problem. It may be massive and its products known for high quality, but it has yet to mesmerize consumers. The idea the company is a follower, not a leader, risks being cemented by the global intellectual property battle that was ignited when Apple Inc. began legal action in April against Samung for what it says is uninhibited copying of its iPhone and iPad designs.
Sue Chung is someone Samsung should be winning over. Young, Korean and studying for grad school, she uses Apple's iPhone for reasons including ease of use and a positive feeling about its maker.
"The image is very important," she said, sitting in a Seoul coffee shop. "Apple's image is very free and more open."
Within South Korea— a searingly ambitious nation that obsesses over its international standings in anything measurable — pride in Samsung's achievements is leavened by comparisons with Apple and its quarter century of game-changing products such as the Macintosh computer and iPhone.
If Samsung Electronics Co. is to live up to the vaulting ambitions of its homeland and its top executives, many feel it must move beyond being a highly efficient imitator to creating products so original and seductive in function and design they become icons of consumer culture. Being big alone no longer cuts it.
Illustrating Samsung's heft, its net profit last year was more than five times the combined earnings of Japanese rivals Panasonic Corp., Sharp Corp., Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and loss-making Sony Corp. Total sales in 2010 came to a company record of 154.6 trillion won ($136.6 billion), making Samsung the world's biggest technology company by sales.
Yet even bigger dividends can come from vision such as that possessed by Apple's Steve Jobs or Akio Morita, the late co-founder of Sony, which popularized music-on-the-go with the 1979 introduction of its Walkman music player.
Apple has a market capitalization of about $350 billion, while Samsung, which has seen its share price slump 11 percent this year, is worth much less — about $105 billion.
Tony Michell, a Seoul-based business consultant and author of a book on Samsung, said that the company's dilemma is how to take advantage of its deep well of domestic brainpower.
"Koreans are immensely creative but their traditional culture of hierarchy doesn't let them be creative," he said. "And so Samsung has this problem that it has at the moment: a heavy cultural conservatism which is preventing full creativity."
The intellectual property battle under way with Apple has highlighted one of the perils of playing catch-up.
The Cupertino, California-based Apple, which spurred the smartphone boom with the launch of its iPhone in 2007, slammed Samsung in April by filing a lawsuit in the United States alleging the product design, user interface and packaging of its Android-based Galaxy brand of products "slavishly copy" the iPhone and iPad.
Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung, which supplies key components such as chips to Apple for its smart devices, has fought back with lawsuits accusing the U.S. company of violating its patents. The battle is playing out in 10 countries, according to Samsung, including the United States and South Korea.
A German court recently ruled in Apple's favor and banned direct sales of Samsung's new Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer, saying it "did not keep the necessary distance" from the iPad 2 in its design, the news agency dapd reported. A court ruling in Australia on Apple's request to stop sales of the same tablet in that country is expected this week.
Samsung, meanwhile, has asked a Dutch court to prevent Apple from selling iPhones and iPads in the Netherlands, saying the U.S. company does not have licenses to use Samsung-patented 3G mobile technology in the devices.
A development sometimes overlooked amid the arguments over intellectual property is that Samsung, fueled by the Galaxy brand, is gaining fast in the rush to woo global smartphone consumers after a late start.
The company ranked No. 2 globally in smartphones behind Apple in the second quarter of this year, according to U.S.-based market research firm IDC, which cited the growing global popularity of the Galaxy S.
Apple shipped 20.3 million iPhones for a market share of 19.1 percent, while Samsung's results were 17.3 million smartphones and 16.2 percent market share.
Samsung and other manufacturers, however, are far behind Apple in tablets, where the U.S. company controlled 80 percent of the North American market in the second quarter, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.
Song Jaeyong, a professor of strategy and international management at Seoul National University Business School, says Samsung has excelled by being a "fast follower" — imitating or licensing technologies and then competing by lowering costs, improving quality and adding functions.
The company should "hire more outsiders and outcast figures" to spur "creative innovation," said Song, who co-authored a recent study of the company that appeared in the Harvard Business Review.
To be sure, Samsung has made efforts to bring in outsiders, with powerful Chairman Lee Kun-hee repeatedly urging creativity.
"Samsung actually is a great employer of foreigners at all levels," said Michell, the consultant and author. "But the Korean voice doesn't listen to the foreigners working inside enough."
American Michael Kim can attest to that. He says he was recruited to work at Samsung and did so in 2008 and 2009, serving as a senior manager in the semiconductor business.
"People at the top of Samsung want the company to become more innovative and not be perceived as the imitator that it has been perceived as for so long" but a rigid corporate culture works against that, he said.
"They would tell us that they want us to be change agents and that they want us to try to fix whatever we see that needs fixing," said Kim. "You're appreciated until you actually try to start changing things."
Kim said a hope for the company could be when the current crop of smart, talented younger engineers, who he says are discouraged from speaking up, advance into middle management where they can wield more influence.
Samsung disputed Kim's remarks, saying they "do not represent the views of former and current employees."
Lee Younghee, a senior vice president and chief of global marketing for mobile communications, the division that includes smartphones and tablets, concedes that if the definition of creativity is limited to Apple or Sony, then Samsung has lagged. But that is just part of the story, she says.
"Samsung has been leading," she said in an interview, referring to innovations in areas such as wireless communications technology, where it owns numerous patents. "Isn't that innovation?"
Ultimately, she said, the question of creativity will be judged by consumers.
"I think the market is fair and consumers are very fair," she said. "Consumers know what they want, they know what's the best. I think the consumer will answer to this."


Samsung unveils faster mobile chip, the Exynos 4212

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Samsung Electronics at the eighth annual Samsung Mobile Solutions Forum at the Westin Taipei Hotel yesterday unveiled an improved version of its Exynos system-on-a-chip solution for smartphones and tablets. The Exynos 4212 silicon is a successor to the 4210 processor which powers the company’s Galaxy S II smartphone. The new chip features a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processing core clocked at 1.5GHz (versus a 1.2GHz CPU core in the Exynos 4210). The Exynos 4212 will be manufactured using a 32-nanometer process so it should draw less power than its predecessor. It is also 30 percent more efficient, Samsung claims, and sports a 50 percent better graphics performance.

Unfortunately, the company wouldn’t say which graphics processor unit the new Exynos 4212 chip is utilizing. For comparison, the Exynos 4210 in the Galaxy S II smartphone packs in graphics processing unit based on the quad-core Mali-400 core from ARM Holdings, a fables chip maker from the UK. It’s the fastest GPU in any current smartphone, benchmarks show. However, the Mali-400 GPU core falls short in the triangle throughput tests, which is a major disadvantage over the iPad 2′s A5 processor that clocks nine times the graphics performance of the original iPad’s A4 chip.

With that in mind, Samsung may have switched to another GPU provider for the new Exynos 4211 chip, but this has not been confirmed at press time. Samples will be available by the end of this year so the upcoming high-end smartphones and tablets from Samsung will likely run a 1.5GHz Exynos 4212 chip. Again, more powerful performance while drawing less power.


Virgin announces $200 LG Optimus Slider and HTC Wildfire S

Virgin Mobile USA just officially announced the LG Optimus Slider and HTC Wildfire S, their latest Android handsets coming to Best Buy at the end of October.

We told you about a Best Buy leak a few days ago confirming the Optimus Slider’s specs, which is really just a refreshed version of the $99 Optimus V. The specs are largely unchanged from the V apart from the slide-out hardware QWERTY keyboard and Android 2.3. If you’re not familiar with that device, expect the Slider to sport a 3.2-inch color LCD touhcscreen, 3.2 megapixel main camera, WiFi/3G, and 4 hours battery life (3 days standby). You’ll be able to grab it on October 17 from Virgin, or on October 31st at Best Buy and RadioShack for $200. It will hit Target November 6, and November 13 in Sprint stores.

Also announced today is the HTC Wildfire S, the first HTC device on Virgin. The Wildfire S will comes with a 3.2-inch HVGA touchscreen display, 5 megapixel main camera with flash, 600MHz processor, 3G/WiFi, Android 2.3 and HTC Sense on top. The silver model will be available exclusively to Virgin customers (and Best Buy). You’ll be able to pick it up for $200 on October 23 through RadioShack and Best Buy.

“The HTC Wildfire S is the first HTC smartphone on Virgin Mobile and we couldn’t be more thrilled to bring the Wildfire S™ to our customers,” said Mark Lederman, Business Line director, Virgin Mobile USA. “It is an attractive, easy-to-use and fast smartphone perfect for both the technically savvy and those looking to make the leap to a smartphone for the first time.”


Google Chrome is on its way to Android

Confirming previous reports, Conceivably Tech has uncovered a post that Google Chrome will soon be making its way into Android. A post on the Chromium Message Boards tells us that Android’s version of Chrome will have the same features as the desktop version — tabs, Skia 2D graphics library, and maybe a combined search and website bar?

Sadly, there’s no word on when this new browser will hit. Now we’re not drawing any conclusions, but perhaps this will be announced at Google’s (and Samsung’s) event October 11th? For those of you who haven’t heard, Samsung and Google are rumored to announce the Nexus Prime and Ice Cream Sandwich. While this tour didn’t show it, let’s hope Chrome is bundled into ICS.


HTC’s software has a HUGE security hole

The fine folks over at Android Police have discovered that many HTC devices have a huge security hole due to a recent Android update. The results are pretty shocking, and HTC has no one to blame but themselves. In a recent update, HTC included a set of logging tools that logs users email accounts, last known network and GPS connection, phone numbers that have been recently dialed, encoded SMS data (probably can be decoded), and system logs.

Okay so HTC logs all of this, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that any app that requests android.permission.INTERNET can get their hands on this information. Phones include the Thunderbolt, Evo 4G, Evo 3D, and more.

As of now, the only way to patch this hole is to root your device and remove /system/app/HtcLoggers.apk. If you’re not rooted, stay away from sketchy apps. As Android Police points out, even a high-quality app could still get their hands on this information. Android Police has all of the technical details.


Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus set for 2011 release

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Remember way back in the fall of 2010, when former Apple CEO Steve Jobs teed off on pint-sized tablets? "7-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone and too small to compete with the iPad," he said on a now-infamous earnings call. Jobs, of course, was almost certainly referring to the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which was released around that time, and which went on to sell quite briskly. Today, Samsung announced it would seek to capitalize on the success of the very first Galaxy Tab with a new device dubbed the (deep breath) Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. The new tablet is a full-featured beast, from the 1.2GHz Dual Core processor to the dual cameras and the Android Honeycomb OS. It's also extremely small: Samsung says the Plus weighs 0.75 pounds and measures less than half an inch. "Enhanced portability ensures that it fits easily into an inside-jacket pocket or a handbag, making it an ideal device for those who need to stay productive and entertained while on-the-move," Samsung reps wrote in a press statement. Fair enough. But will consumers opt for a tablet with a 7-inch screen? (By comparison, the iPad screen is about 10 inches.) Well, Amazon certainly thinks so. Earlier this week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took the wraps off the the long-awaited Kindle Fire, which is expected to launch in mid-November. The Fire, like the (deep breath, again) Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, gets a 7-inch screen; unlike the Plus, it will sell for $199. (Samsung hasn't slapped a price tag on the Plus, but if past devices are an indication, a base model will probably go for around $450.) Release date for Tab 7.0 Plus is set for later this year. In related news, next week – legal troubles or not – Samsung will bring its Galaxy Tab 8.9 tablet to the US market. The Galaxy Tab 8.9 will ship at two price points: 16GB for $469, and 32GB for $569.


Microsoft flagged Chrome as malware

Microsoft’s Security Essentials mistakenly flagged Google Chrome as malware and began blocking the program. In many instances Chrome was entirely removed from users’ computers. Apparently, Chrome was being incorrectly identified as a member of the Zeus malware family, but Microsoft has since released an update to fix the issue.

Complaints started early this morning in Google’s help forums, where users became frustrated after discovering that their Chrome browser had been wiped from their PCs. Some users recounted that upon starting up their PCs, they received a Windows Security warning to remove a security problem. After clicking the Remove button and restarting the PC, they found that Chrome had gotten deleted and could not be re-installed.

Microsoft has since apologized for the mistake and issued a statement along with updated signatures that should fix the problem. Google has also posted instructions on fixing the issue, telling users to first ensure that Chrome is indeed uninstalled before updating to Microsoft’s latest version with signature 1.113.672.0 or higher, and then to reinstall Chrome via


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