Samsung underscores austerity in promotions, taps 1st female VP in battery division

Reporters check out Samsung TVs at a trade show.
South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics does annual corporate reshuffles of its high-level executives in December.
Samsung Group highlighted the promotions of women executives and foreign nationals on Friday as it round off its annual reshuffle but, most of all, underscored austerity with just 294 executive promotions total the fewest in seven years.

The lower number of the promotions ― down from 353 in last year’s reshuffle and the lowest since 2009 ― signals the drive of Lee Jae-yong, vice chairman and scion of the Samsung founding Lee family, to streamline the conglomerate’s myriad businesses and cull its top-heavy corporate structure in order to refocus on troubled electronics businesses.

Samsung’s has faced trouble over the last two years in its mobile division. Even though the Galaxy S6 and Note 5 were well received by critics, the handsets failed to beat back a resurgent Apple and increasing competition from rising Chinese makers of low-end smartphones such as Huawei and Xiaomi.

Samsung Group highlighted the role of women and foreign nationals in this year’s annual executive promotions, according to a press release. “Many women executives at several divisions distinguished their outstanding capabilities and strengths. They will be role models for younger women.”

 

Kim You-mee, executive vice-president of Samsung SDI
Kim You-mee, executive vice-president of Samsung SDI

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nine women were promoted to senior executive positions, including one to vice-president. The global tech giant has made it policy for the past several years to diversifying its top brass to include foreign nationals and women. That’s down from 14 in 20125 and 15 in 2014.

“Samsung promoted executives who had achieved great performance, and tried to keep the growth momentum by promoting executives in a wider range of fields to include women and foreign nationals,” the conglomerate said in the press release.

The promotion of Kim You-mee as executive vice-president injects fresh blood into the Samsung’s battery affiliate. The 57-year-old Kim is one of just five executive VPs and the first female to join the exclusive top echelon of the Samsung affiliate. She joined Samsung SDI in 1996.

She previously headed development of small-sized and EV batteries, and will serve as one of CEO Cho Nam-seong’s key lieutenants in growing the affiliate as a global battery supplier.

Of the 294, a total of 29 executives were made executive vice presidents, 68 became senior vice presidents, and 197 vice presidents. The number of promotions has been steadily declining since a high of 501 in 2011.

LG could launch its own mobile payment service as early as November

[This story was written originally for ZDNet on October 15, 2015 reporting from Seoul, South Korea.]

LG could join an already global market crowded by big players such as Google’s Android Pay, Apple Pay and Samsung Pay, perhaps as early as November, according to South Korean media reports.

Samsung affiliates to benefit from demand for electronic components, OLEDs

samsung girls

[This story was written originally for ZDNet on October 6, 2015 reporting from Seoul, South Korea]

Continued strong demand for TVs, tablets, and handsets will see a profit surge over the next two years, according to a Korean report.

South Korean TVs’ market dominance slowly weakening against Chinese rivals

Samsung is focused on the premium end of the TV market as its strategy to stem the torrent of Chinese companies eroding its market share.

Reporters check out Samsung TVs at a trade show.
Reporters check out Samsung TVs at a trade show.

Even though the Chinese makers are nibbling at South Korean market share, those Korean TV makers continue to enjoy dominance at the premium end of the global TV market.

South Korean TV makers are slowly losing ground in the global market in the face of Chinese rivals and faltering TV demand worldwide despite their strategy of keeping the tech edge over Chinese rivals by developing new innovative products.

Let’s look at some numbers. According to the a report in August by market tracker DisplaySearch, the combined share of Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics — the two big South Korean players — came to 34.8 percent in the first half of 2015. That’s a 4.3 percent drop from a year ago. Not much but the question is whether this is an irreversible trend.

In the meantime, Chinese makers saw their combined share soar 4.6 percentage points to 25.9 percent over the cited period.

Samsung’s share dipped to 20.8 percent, while LG’s retreated to 13.9 percent over the same period, the report said.

LG Electronics is mass-producing OLED TVs, first in the world, while Samsung Electronics is focusing on premium models such as LCD-based SUHD TVs.  It is top-notch technology, but the jury is still out on whether that is innovative enough or if even out competing their Chinese rival on the premium end is the right strategy going forward.

TCL Corp.’s share increased to 5.7 percent from 5.1 percent, and its local rival Hisense Co. also bolstered its presence to 5.4 percent of the global share from 4.9 percent.

South Korean companies’ TV sales have slowed over the past year. Samsung sold 24.1 million units in the first six months of 2015, down 15.2 percent from the previous year. LG’s TV sales sank 16 percent on-year to 13.6 million units as of end-June.

In contrast, Chinese makers boosted their combined sales to 25.4 million units from 21.9 million units during that time.

While the financial media has reported that China weakening its currency by letting it float unhindered in currency markets make things harder for Korean makers, that seems a little exaggerated.

From May, the Chinese Yuan decreased in value in relation to the Korean won by about 5 percent to about 5.45 Yuan for 1,000 Korean won from about 5.71 Yuan.

China’s move may further hurt Korean companies that have already been struggling to vie with Japanese firms backed by a cheaper currency, market watchers here said, adding there is a need to draw up fresh strategies that will help tide over the slackening sales.

Sure, a weaker Yuan is a disadvantage for Korean exporters since it undermines their price competitiveness versus Chinese rivals in the global market. But a 5 percent difference over a four month period is not going to make a crucial difference. It is one factor among many at play here.

LG hopes dual display v10 will win back smartphone buyers

LG Electronics on Thursday launched a new smartphone packing two screens at simultaneous events in Seoul and New York City, which the company hopes will help bolster struggling sales of flagship phones and beat back increased competition from China.

The LG V10 smartphone features an extra ticker-tape style screen above the main 5.7-inch display that can be used for notifications, as well as in multitasking. The second “always-on” screen displays battery level, the weather and time and date _ as well as a slew of little extras , such as emails, texts, missed calls and app activity _ even when the main screen is off.

LG has big plans for the V10, ostensibly the first in a range of V phones from the company as it seeks to boost sales in a difficult market.

But the reaction of analysts in South Korea was cool describing the new features as gimmicky and dismissing the new camera and other features as neat but not be enough to re-position the LG brand from a “a grey part,” an area between premium smartphones and Chinese budget handsets.

“They are focusing on the camera function, right. I don’t think it will impact the market,” said Joo Yong-dong, IT analyst with Hyundai Securities. “And LG Electronics is positioned in a grey part. The premium phone market is dominated by companies like Samsung and, especially Apple. The low end is dominated by many Chinese phones like Huawei and Xiaomi. They are taking market share from LG Electronics especially among low and mid-ranged smartphones. I think LG smartphone business does not look bright.”

LG’s V10 smartphone features premium materials including a stainless steel FRAME and silicone cover while internally it mimics the company’s G4 smartphone that was launched earlier in the year.

LG sales of the G4 were hammered in the first half of this year as compared to its predecessor phone, the G3, according to figure provided by KDB Daewoo Securities.

Sales of the G3 in the 12 month period from its release in June 2014 to May 2015 was about 13.5 million units, and 4.6 million units in the first four months. However, LG sold only 2.1 million G4s from April to July, less than half of how the G3 sold.

However, as the company declined to release official sales results, those numbers are unconfirmed. That said, operating profits from its mobile communications business, which includes LG smartphones, dropped 99.7 percent year-on-year to 200 million won ($166,666).

For any indication that LG is desperately looking to turn things around in Q4 the new v10 one has to look no further that the company’s stock price. LG Electronics stock dropped below the psychologically important level of 50,000 won per share on June 24, and remained there ever since. LG stock has not been that low in more than 10 years.

Will the ‘super phone’ pull LG from the brink?

Analysts in South Korea have questioned whether releasing yet another premium smartphone will pull LG’s mobile division back into the profit zone.

LG Electronics v10 "super premium phone" sports dual displays and two cameras for creative selfies capabilities.
LG Electronics v10 “super premium phone” sports dual displays and two cameras for creative selfies capabilities.

Johnny Sakko cool! You can talk directly on Samsung’s new smartwatch, Gear S2

The coolest feature on this new wearable is the optional 3G/4G telephony, meaning that unlike the Apple Watch, you’ll be able to pipe calls and data directly to your smartwatch. No Bluetooth required for this watch!

Johnny Sakko talks directly into his smartwatch (and without the aid of a Bluetooth device) to deliver commands to his pal, Giant Robot.
Johnny Sakko talks directly into his smartwatch (and without the aid of a Bluetooth device) to deliver commands to his pal, Giant Robot.

Sales of its Gear S2 and Gear S2 Classic smartwatches starts Oct. 2 in the US and South Korea. In the United States, the classic version will run you $349.99 while the regular sport version will cost $299.99. In South Korea, it runs for 333,300 won for the regular sport model and 374,000 won for the classic.

I was immediately reminded by the super watch used by characters like Dick Tracy from the 1930s American detective series and of Johnny Sakko’s watch in the 1970s Japanese sci-fi action series “Johnny Sakko And His Flying Robot.”

I mean, the smartwatches available before the Gear S2 could pull that trick off, but only after you hooked up to it a Bluetooth device. Somehow the Gee-whiz factor is lost.

Other specs: Both Samsung models have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC, and the 4G models also pack GPS as well. The Samsung Gear S2 and Gear S2 Classic are essentially the same device, albeit with different finishes – much like the different editions of the Apple Watch. However, as I said, each comes with or without a 4G telephony capability.

 

Apple vs. Samsung

Apple vs. Samsung: Apple Watch (left) and Gear S2 (right).
Apple vs. Samsung: Apple Watch (left) and Gear S2 (right). [Courtesy of BGR.com for the photo.]

Compared to the Apple Watch, Samsung’s new wearable is cooler just by virtue of this one feature. But there are other differences besides.

Apple Watch is rectangular, the Gear S2 is round. The Apple Watch is curvy. The Gear S2 is a bit more angular and traditionally watch-like in design. The Apple Watch uses a small digital crown dial and touch display to navigate the interface, while the Gear S2 gets around with a spinning bezel and a touch display.

In execution, the larger ring on the Gear S2 offers a bit more travel before you have to pull your finger back and start spinning again than the Apple Watch’s digital crown.

There’s one more notch for the Gear S2: compatibility. Previous Samsung smartwatches have only worked with Samsung smartphones, and even then a selection of the most recent ones. And the Apple Watch obviously only works with the iPhone.

Android compatible

In the same week as Apple announced that selfish little tidbit, and Android Wear smartwatches picked iPhone compatibility, Samsung’s announced that the Gear S2 will work on all Android smartphones running Android 4.4 or higher with more than 1.5GB of RAM.

That’s a huge change for Samsung, which while still the dominant Android manufacturer, has acknowledged there are more than just Samsung smartphones out there. That could serve as a lure for non-Samsung Android phone users into their ecosystem.

There are some features that won’t work with non-Samsung phones (like Samsung Pay, for obvious reasons), just like there are some Android Wear features that don’t work on the iPhone.

Gear S2’s Achilles Heel?

The Gear S2 was first unveiled during the IFA tradeshow in Berlin in September. It runs on Samsung’s own operating system, Tizen. Really? Another Operating System to complicate the lives of consumers.

That to me is perhaps its biggest negative. I wonder how many apps will be made available for the watch in the future. App developers already have to work twice as hard making their products for iPhone and Android systems…why add yet another OS and make their jobs that much harder?

Samsung has faced repeated quarterly profit declines in recent years due to competition from Apple and Chinese vendors in the low-end. It is betting on the Gear S2, the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 Edge Plus to maintain profits for the year. I think they made a savvy decision.