Thursday, October 31, 2013

1st ministerial forum on broadband development in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2013 has published some coverage of the 1st Ministerial Forum on Broadband Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2013 at which I gave a keynote presentation.  I covered this in an earlier post, but has a few photographs of the actual event.  Click on the accompanying photograph to see a full-size version.

Schmidt: hangul (한글) "in line with Google's mission"

Google chairman Eric Schmidt was in Seoul yesterday and, although he met with Samsung executives, perhaps the most important activity during his visit was a visit and press briefing at the Hangul Museum being built at the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, central Seoul.  As reported in the Joongang Daily, "Schmidt held a press conference yesterday morning at the museum to announce a set of new partnership programs to help expand the user base of Hangul, Korea’s written language, including developing a Web program for learning it. Schmidt said King Sejong’s purpose in creating Hangul, which was to provide Korean people with a language essay to learn and use, is in line with Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”"
Google has already made some effort to publicize hangul to the world, including its use on Google's main search page on Hangul Day, a national holiday here in Korea, as shown in this 2011 post.  However, it can and should do much more, for several reasons.
Some years ago, a poll of academic experts on Korean culture published in the magazine Koreana showed that hangul was considered to be Korea's greatest cultural achievement.  A similar poll of the Korean people would no doubt produce similar results, as hangul is widely considered to be this nation's crowning cultural achievement.
Moreover, as I noted in a 2009 post, hangul has the following characteristics (I've updated the list slightly here to account for recent developments).

  • Because it is so scientific and phonetic, it was an important factor in accelerating the uptake of computers, mobile phones and all sorts of digital electronic devices here. 
  • It is possible to type much faster on a hangeul computer keyboard than on a qwerty English keyboard--much faster! This principle applies to smartphones and tablets as well. 
  • Because Hangeul is alphabetic, it was conducive to the rapid development and growth of the graphics industry, which began back in the 1980's. Some of us remember when there were no Korean fonts, only hand calligraphy. 
  • Literacy is an essential requirement for the information society and Hangeul helped promote it in Korea. For years now, South Korea has had near-universal literacy.
Despite the above realities, a 2003 report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) entitled Broadband Korea: Internet Case Study, got it completely wrong.  In Section 1.2 of the report headed "What explains Korea's success," it claimed that "Another factor seemingly weighing against Korea’s ICT development islanguage. Koreans have their own language. Therefore, the country cannot easily leverage the vast amount of content developed in more widely spoken languages. The Korean alphabet, known as Han-gul, uses a pictographic font that is not ideally suited to computerization."  This blatant mistake in the ITU report is symptomatic of a larger problem, that treatment of Korea in the mainstream media around the world (and this carries over into internet content!) tends to be overwhelmed by the much larger volume of information about China and Japan, Korea's two larger neighbors.  Nowhere is this more evident than in efforts by the current Japanese government to claim that Dokdo, the Korean island in the East Sea, is part of Japan.   More on that in a future post.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Curved phones or build your own?

LG has followed market-leader Samsung by launching its own curved smartphone.  As shown in the accompanying  graphic, the LG phone is slightly curved along the length of the phone rather than its width, as is the case with Samsung's curved phone.  Also, as reported by the Chosun Ilbo, the new LG phone includes not only a flexible display, but also a flexible battery which represents a significant technological advance.
Coincidentally, today's English edition of the Chosun Ilbo also contained a story about the announcement on Monday by Google-owned Motorola of Project Ara.   The official Motorola Blog describes the project as follows: "Led by Motorola’s Advanced Technology and Projects group, Project Ara is developing a free, open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones. We want to do for hardware what the Android platform has done for software: create a vibrant third-party developer ecosystem, lower the barriers to entry, increase the pace of innovation, and substantially compress development timelines.Our goal is to drive a more thoughtful, expressive, and open relationship between users, developers, and their phones. To give you the power to decide what your phone does, how it looks, where and what it’s made of, how much it costs, and how long you’ll keep it."  To achieve these goals, Project Ara has teamed up with Phonebloks, an effort described in the following video.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The brain to computer interface: the future of user interfaces?

Digital communications technology is developing at a breathtaking pace, and one area in which we're likely to see big changes is in the user interface with computers.   Most of us are still accustomed to keyboards, but smartphones and tablets have already begun to change that with touch screens, voice recognition and smart stylus input.   However, as reported by the Samsung Economic Research Institute, advances in brain to computer interface (BCI) technology may soon change all of that.  BCI is gaining momentum as a next-generation technology for everyday needs.
As shown in the accompanying diagram, in a BCI system, a brainwave is read and converted into a digital signal that is processed and converted into some sort of physical action or application.  The variety of actions/applications that might be developed in the future seems to be limited only by one's imagination.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

GE Chairman lauds Korea's information technology infrastructure

The Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) has been in Korea, meeting with President Park Geun-hye and with industry counterparts at Samsung.  Some of his comments are quite interesting.  As reported by the Korea Times, at a Friday press conference he called Korea "...the heartbeat of the world and a healthy place to invest."
Immelt also had some comments to make about conglomerates, at a time when Korea's family-controlled chaebol business groups are coming under criticism.  As noted in the Korea Joongang Daily,"Immelt said that people might have legitimate concerns about the conglomerates both in the United States and Korea, but he said that a company can be good at multiple areas while creating better efficiency and value. He said new corporate success stories like Google and are also expanding to become “their own form of conglomerate.”"
He also said that "..the Korean government’s creative economy initiative will increasingly put Korea in value-added areas. He said the initiative gives GE a sense of where to invest further in Korea.For instance, the Korean economy has the best information technologies infrastructure of any country that we compete with in the world,” he said, citing the industrial Internet as an example."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Government leadership in Korea's ICT-led development

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Global e-Government Forum 2013 on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week at KINTEX in Ilsan, including chairing a panel entitled "Communication:  Enhancing democracy through online participation."  This post is prompted by a keynote address given on the second day of the conference by Chair and Emeritus Professor Ahn, Moon Suk of Korea University.  In it, he enumerated some of the major success factors leading to Korea's current status as a world leader in e-government.  I was pleased to see that he acknowledged the significance of the phonetic and very scientific hangul alphabet, along with the role of technocrats trained overseas, the shared vision of policymakers and opinion leaders, and the commitment of every president of South Korea.  This last success factor is something I stressed in my October 15 presentation to ICT ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean in Seoul, using the accompanying slide as an illustration. (click to see a full size version)  The blue line on the slide represents GNI/capita in current U.S.$ as reported by the World Bank.
Over the years since 1980, South Korea developed many plans, some dealing with infrastructure projects and others more broadly with informatization.  Among these plans, the two highlighted in blue on the slide deserve special emphasis.  The 1981 "Long Term Plan to Invigorate the Electronics Sector," comprehensively addressed what we now recognize as the ICT sector, years before that term came into common usage by international organizations.  It also addressed the question of financing from both public and private sources.   In 1996, the administration of President Kim Young Sam elevated informatization to the level of a top national policy priority, with the newly enlarged Ministry of Information and Communication (MIC) given overall responsibility for guiding ICT sector industrial policy.
As Professor Ahn stressed in his keynote address, and as this slide illustrates for the period from 1980 to the present, every South Korean president has supported development of the ICT sector.  Remarkably, this included military governments and, after democratization both ruling party and opposition presidents.

Smartphone sales in Korea's saturated market

Not surprisingly, the diffusion of smartphones in South Korea, led by Samsung's Galaxy series, took place so rapidly that the market has already reached saturation.  However, as shown in the accompanying graphic, published by The Korea Times, (click to see a full size version) sales of smartphones in China are projected to soar, and are also expected to show healthy increases in the U.S. and India, according to a new report by Strategy Analytics.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Why the dark cloud over world TV market?

I've long been interested in the fortunes of Korea's television and display industry.  Digital displays and television sets form a major part of this nation's ICT sector, as noted in my previous post.  So the article in the English Chosun Ilbo headlined "Dark Cloud Hangs over Global TV Market" naturally caught my eye.  It reports on market research showing a drop in sales of flat panel TV sets.  It also notes plummeting prices and suggests that one reason for the decline " that this is a year when neither the Olympic Games nor the football World Cup are held, since they happen in alternate even years." While that may be one contributing factor in the short term, there are other more important reasons for the longer term trend. As shown in the accompanying graphic(click to see a full-size version)LED backlit LCD televisions began to dominate the market starting in 2010. However, another important trend took place in the market over approximately the same time period, namely the introduction of smart phones and tablets!  Indeed, as Andrew Tonner of Motley Fool suggests in a blog post "One of the interesting sides from the explosion of the global tablet market has been its negative effect for not only the PC market, which we've seen, but now also the TV market."  This would seem to be the main reason for declining TV sales this year, without discounting the absence of a globally televised sports event.   Coincidentally, it also helps to explain why the TV semiconductor market is growing, despite the decline in TV shipments. As noted by Digitimes, "Technologies such as wireless video connections, networking interfaces, multi-format decoders and LED backlighting have boosted the average semiconductor content in TV sets even as global TV unit shipments are forecast to decline by an estimated 3% in 2013."

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A bit of history: How 1980-81 decisions anchored Korea's ICT-led development

On Tuesday of this week I attended the 1st Ministerial Forum for Broadband Development in Latin America and the Caribbean at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul and delivered one of two keynote presentations.   The forum was sponsored by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning along with the Inter American Development Bank and was attended by ICT ministers and delegations from eleven Latin American countries.  The discussions during the day were wide-ranging and most interesting.  They forced me to think about many things, including the topic of this post.   I decided to finally create the graphic included here to illustrate the far reaching consequences of decisions and long-range planning.  In 1981, led by technocrats in the Blue House, experts from academia, industry and government drafter a "Long term plan to invigorate the electronics sector."
The slides I prepared for my presentation to the Ministers used the growth curve in South Korea's GNI per capita, based on World Bank data, as an illustration to show the tremendous economic and social development from 1980 to the present.   One of the points I made, but probably did not adequately explain, is how decisions made in 1980 and 1981 addressed the ICT sector, years before that acronym (ICT =Information and Communications Technology) came into widespread use.
As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) there were four key decisions.

  1. To develop and manufacture electronic switching systems through the TDX project.
  2. To enter the global semiconductor market, through the 4MB DRAM project.
  3. To begin color television broadcasting, which did not yet exist in Korea.
  4. To separate the telecommunications business from the Ministry of Communications by forming the Korea Telecommunications Authority (KTA), marking the start of privatization and deregulation.
In retrospect, each of these decisions anchored an important part of South Korea's export-led economic and social development.  The nation is now a major manufacturer and exporter of 1) advanced networks, 2) semiconductor chips, 3)color television sets and displays, and 4) mobile handsets and tablets.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Forthcoming article in Telecommunications Policy

My research paper co-authored with Professor Jaemin Park of Konkuk University will be published soon by Telecommunications Policy.  It is entitled "From developmental to network state:  Government restructuring and ICT-led innovation in Korea," and was based on a paper we delivered at the Pacific Telecommunications Council annual conference (PTC13) in January of this year.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Korea's youth the most "digitally native" in the world

The 2013 edition of Measuring the Information Society has been published by the ITU, and it contains an interesting new section on "digital natives."  The UN study uses the following definition.   "A digital native is defined as a youth, aged 15-24 inclusive, with five years or more experience using the internet."  Using this measure, 99.6 percent of South Korea's youth are digital natives, almost the same as Japan with 99.5 percent.  Several Scandinavian countries and Finland also ranked high and 95.6 percent of the youth in the United States are digital natives.
The accompanying graphic shows where digital natives are most concentrated in countries around the world (click to see a full size version).  The map is shaded according to a measure of digital natives as a percentage of the total population.  On this measure, South Korea ranked third in the world.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Flexible displays: Samsung announces Galaxy Round

Samsung has announced a new smartphone, the "Galaxy Round."  This will be one of the first smartphones to make use of flexible display technology, which is now being mass produced by LG.  The introduction of a curve into the design of the phone allows for several effects, one of which is demonstrated in the video below.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Is Samsung overly reliant on smartphones?

The headline in today's English Chosun Ilbo jumped out at me because I've posted on numerous occasions (for example, see my post on "Slim Smartphones, IT Exports and the Creative Economy") over the years about South Korea's heavy reliance on hardware manufacturing and exports, versus software and services.   As the Chosun Ilbo article points out, analysts believe that Samsung's mobile division, which includes smartphones, accounts for 65 percent of total quarterly operating profit. "In turn, Samsung Electronics accounts for 66 percent of the entire Samsung Group's revenues. That means that slow smartphone sales could rattle the entire group badly. Experts warn that Samsung must come up with new growth engines for a time when the global smartphone market is saturated. Otherwise it could go the way of former rivals Nokia and Blackberry."
In the larger scheme of things, it is well to remember that the rapid advances in digital networks these days are creating a global market in which content is king.  Those companies that manufacture the hardware and components for networks will have a role, but two thirds or more of the total market will be in content, software and information-based services.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ben Huh seeks to reinvent global news

One of my alerts this morning brought news of Ben Huh, a Korean educated in journalism at Northwestern and an internet entrepreneur who seeks to reinvent the news for the age of mobile broadband networks.  The Ad Age Digital article led me to read more about his efforts.  I've been interested in how communication technology affects the news for a long time, at least since my doctoral dissertation and first book, Television's Window on the World, which examined how communication satellites and electronic newsgathering were shaping patterns of newsgathering and dissemination in the 1970s.  The advent of the internet and the spread of mobile digital networks have made the interaction between technology and the news even more interesting.
I'm going to look further into Ben Huh's efforts through his new company, Circa news and will be discussing this with students in my undergraduate class at KAIST on "Introduction to Mass Communication."  It is of interest to me that Korea was one of the first countries to experiment with citizen journalism, in the form of OhmyNews, in part because of its extensive and fast digital networks. The class I teach already includes a presentation by Andrew Gruen who worked with and studied OhmyNews as part of his doctoral dissertation research at Cambridge University.  Andrew is focusing, among other things, on the issue of accountability.   With the explosion of video and other information made possible by the new mobile broadband networks, there is certainly going to be demand for services like Circa that edit, select and format news in a mobile format.  Time will tell whether Circa is an important part of the solution or not, but the issue it addresses is important and should be of concern to citizens everywhere.