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    Dear TM Roh, It’s time for some much-needed shock and awe

    Opinion
    By 

    Last updated: November 12th, 2023 at 09:03 UTC+01:00

    TM Roh took over the reins of Samsung MX at the start of 2020. To say that it was a very difficult time would be an understatement. The pandemic had gripped a world staring global recession in the face. Global supply chains were disrupted and life as we knew it came to a standstill. He now had to lead Samsung's mobile division through the “Next Normal,” as described by the company itself.

    He's done a great job since then. From spearheading Samsung's push into foldables and absolutely dominating that space to reinventing the Galaxy S series, elevating the Galaxy A series with more clarity of purpose, supercharging its firmware update game to stamping its authority in the Android tablet market, it has all happened under Roh's watch. There's a new uniformity in the hardware design language and software UX that was lacking in Samsung's products.

    Roh also has a reputation of preferring optimization in all aspects of the business. He's said to be behind Samsung's increasing reliance on outsourcing more handset production to cut costs. This included shifting to the ODM model for the entry-level segment, a more competitive supply chain for reduced component costs, and optimizing production lines for greater efficiency.

    There's no denying the fact that Roh's an excellent executive who has met, if not exceeded, the targets provided to him when he was elevated to this role. Cost savings and increased efficiency is great for any company and Samsung's benefitted from Roh's leadership in these areas. He had big shoes to fill, after all. DJ Koh had a larger than life presence at the mobile division, having spearheaded the company through many of its successes in the mobile market. It wouldn't be wrong to say that Koh achieved an almost celebrity status among Samsung fans as he was perceived to be someone who tilted more towards performance than optimization.

    We asked TM Roh during the previous Unpacked event why it seems like Samsung doesn't want to go bonkers with hardware specifications anymore. The vision he laid out in response highlighted Samsung's increased focus on extracting more from the same hardware with much better optimization than before. So instead of focusing entirely on raw hardware, Samsung is now taking a more balance approach to carry its hardware innovation in lockstep with software optimization.

    Some Samsung fans continue to advocate for the DJ Koh approach. Go all out on specs and have everything else fall in line. In all fairness, there are pros and cons to their unique visions, but the way things are playing out in the smartphone market right now, it should be concerning for Roh.

    Huawei's new Mate 60 Pro took the industry by surprise because despite crippling sanctions imposed by the United States that made it impossible for the company to source advanced chips from US companies and US-allied companies and countries, not only does it have a locally-made 7nm chipset but also appears to support 5G. Other Chinese OEMs have followed suit and are now increasingly sourcing more components locally, further contributing to the growth of China's advanced components industry.

    This also brings China's leading display maker, BOE, under the spotlight. It's able to churn out new display products that Chinese OEMs can now use to showcase new concepts and innovations faster than any other manufacturer. There's a reasonable chance that these OEMs could use BOE's panels to bring foldable and even rollable devices to market even faster than incumbents like Samsung. There's already a big wave of foldable phones coming out of China and there's a very real threat that they may beat Samsung to market with rollable phones.

    It's not a good omen for Samsung MX as it gives the perception that perhaps it's cooled off on innovation. That's a perception that's now haunting Apple for the iPhone. Even its most loyal fans make fun of the fact that new iPhones continue to look the way that they have for a few years now. There's also no indication that Apple is considering new form factors like foldables, at least in the near future. That's a perception that Samsung should actively look to avoid at a time when the Chinese OEMs seem to have adopted a shock and awe strategy.

    If I could express an opinion to TM Roh, I'd suggest that he consider limited production of special devices that showcase Samsung MX's innovation. Whether that's showcasing innovative new form factors or even an entirely new software experience. Sell these devices online only at a higher price tag since they're effectively a proof of concept and meant to be used only by enthusiasts who want to experience cutting-edge technology, even if it's not entirely finished or polished.

    This isn't a foreign concept for Samsung as the company has done things like this in the past. The original Galaxy Fold was only offered in limited numbers. We've also seen proof of concept devices in the past like the Galaxy Note Edge and the Galaxy Round. Those devices gave us a glimpse of where Samsung's future devices could go. A return to that strategy can help Samsung introduce some much-needed shock and awe to the industry. Samsung MX is one of the crown jewels of Samsung Electronics. It can work more closely with the other divisions like Samsung Display and LSI to showcase the best of what Samsung Electronics can achieve.

    It's not about turning a profit on these devices or achieving significant volume. It's about continuing to have that psychological advantage over the competition. It's about showcasing to your customers that great things are in store, incentivizing them to stick with Galaxy for the foreseeable future. There's no doubt that it's going to instill more pride in the people who work on these devices and particularly in Samsung's home market of South Korea where Apple has been very focused on making its mark.

    This can be achieved without a significant change to the way Roh is running the business right now. The focus on optimization and efficiency continues for the mass-market models while Samsung showcases the best of its innovation with special edition devices available in limited quantities. Samsung has done so much in the past to shake things up, this is hardly an idea it should shy away from.

    Opinion TM Roh
    Galaxy AI summarized

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