Friday, February 24, 2017

Problems at Korea Inc?

Although the article was published about a month ago, The New York Times report entitled "Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Crisis Signals Problems at Korea Inc." bears reading and re-reading.   In January Samsung publicly offered details and schematics showing how its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone became a combustible failure.  However, according to critics, Samsung did not answer the question of how such a technologically advanced firm could have allowed the problems to happen in the first place.  The article is an interesting critique that touches on Samsung's relationship with the government, its top-down corporate culture, and the pressure it felt from Chinese competitors Huawei and Xiaomi.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The rapid advance of AI in Smartphones

The news that Bixby, the tentative name for Samsung's forthcoming artificial intelligence (AI) powered assistant, will support seven to eight different languages, is getting considerable attention in the trade press around the world.  Some of that attention focuses naturally on Samsung's rivalry with Apple in the smart phone market and also competition from Amazon.  As noted by CNet, "Launching its own smart AI assistant is an important move for Samsung and its future Galaxy and Note phones. The company, which strives to dominate the smartphone world against Apple's iPhone, stands to win fans if its Bixby assistant can outperform Google's Assistant, Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, which will land on its first phone later this month."  Google's AI powered assistant on its Pixel phone is also a competitor.
As a large, more broadly based electronics firm, Samsung may have some advantages.  According to the Korea IT News,  Samsung Electronics wants to use the capabilities of Bixby not only to promote its smartphones, but also to promote its household appliances and Samsung Pay as well. Samsung Electronics’ plan is to have an upper hand in the AI ecosystem in wide range of areas by linking Bixby to its electronics and household appliances including televisiions, refrigerators, and washing machines.   Considering the present capabilities of smart devices, the AI era is advancing very rapidly indeed.  This underscores my message in a January 9 post that smart apps are more important than the phones themselves.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A post from Geneva on "the ITU and the Trump administration"

I'm writing this post in the library of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva, where I've spent the past two weeks working with an expert group on a forthcoming study.  I fly back to Korea tomorrow.
Since my secondment to the ITU coincided with the start of the Trump administration I couldn't help but talk with colleagues here about the strange new twists and turns of U.S. politics.  One of my ITU colleagues passed along a copy of this article, published January 25 by Anthony Rutkowski, a longtime employee of the ITU.  It is a thoughtful piece and I recommend it to you.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Smart apps, not Smart phones are the key to future growth!

An article in The Korea Times today caught my eye, because of its headline, "Smartphones remain key to Samsung, LG earnings."  The opening sentence of the article (which I encourage you to read here) reads as follows. "Despite the ongoing slowdown in the global smartphone industry, conflicting earnings forecasts from Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics indicate how crucial handsets remain as their key profit driver."  Indeed, this is the current narrative and thinking of many here in Korea.  Unfortunately, it does not square with global trends and the reality that this nation faces.  For well over decade now leaders of the ICT sector, from industry, government and academia, have recognized the need for Korea to shift from its heavy dependence on hardware manufacturing and export, to software and services.  Globally, services constitute the major part of the ICT market.  More importantly, they are growing at a much faster rate than the hardware segment of the market.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cards, not cash are king in Korea

When I first arrived in Korea as a young American Peace Corps Volunteer in 1971, cash was king.  Virtually all commercial transactions were conducted in cash.  That meant that one of our priority tasks upon arrival was to have a personal dojang (seal) made so that we could open a bank account and deposit or withdraw cash.   I lived in Chuncheon, the capital of Gangwon province, but Peace Corps living allowances were dispensed in cash at the Peace Corps Office in downtown Seoul, near Gwanghwamun, so we traveled to Seoul on average twice a month. How times have changed!
Late last month the Korea Joongang Daily published an article entitled "In Korea, cash is no longer King."   Among other things, it reported data from a Bank of Korea study showing how much cash Korean's carry in their wallets these days, broken down by age cohort.   (click on the infographic to see a full size version)
These days, Korea leads the world in use of various forms of electronic payment, including credit and debit cards, smart phones and most recently the introduction of Internet banking.   According to the Bank of Korea, only about 20 percent of financial transactions these days involve cash.  Welcome to 2017 in the world's digital network leader!