If the length of press conference lineups at the Consumer Electronics Show are anything to go by, Samsung is one of the hottest gadget makers going right now.
On Monday, the South Korean company had to turn away hundreds of journalists who were hoping to catch a glimpse of its latest televisions, phones, tablets and appliances, simply because there wasn’t enough space to accommodate them all.
The company used the event to claim market leadership in a number of product categories, including smartphones. Samsung Canada president James Politeski later sat down with CBC News to elaborate on the company’s present and future in this country, as well as overall trends in the electronics business.
CBC News: Can you explain how Samsung calculates its leadership position in smartphones? Some numbers give that position to Apple.
James Politeski: The number we count is units, so 300 million phones [shipped] makes that the largest quantity of phones in the world, as measured by the various reported sources of information. We are the largest in units.
Q: And is that number reflective of Canada as well?
A: Yes, in 2011 we had a dramatic increase in our business [in Canada], more than two-and-a-half times the market share from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. In the last few weeks of 2011, from our industry sources, we were No. 1.
Q: One area in which Samsung hasn’t done well is tablets. According to some estimates, Samsung’s market share in Canada is in the low single digits. What’s happening for you there?
A: Last year was our start, our first foray into them. We obviously have an opportunity to grow that business. One of the concepts we’re focused on is walk-at-working so that when we talk about our tablet, we want the sales associates [in stores] to actually demonstrate how it works, get a Gmail account set up so you can connect to Android and download a couple of apps.
With the tablets playing off the success in phones, that momentum is also going to play through because the feel and the systems are very similar. As our smartphone business continues to dramatically expand, that’s going to raise the tablet business.
Q: There’s talk that wireless carriers don’t like Apple so they’ve pushed Android phones, hence their success. But with tablets, people aren’t really buying data plans for them, so carriers aren’t pushing them. Are tablets a harder market as a result?
A: Everything we do has its elements of challenge to it, but having said that, they’re very different products. Phones are just that – they’re communications devices. They have similar features, but tablets are mostly Wi-Fi, so it’s not so much that [carriers] aren’t interested in them, but they’re fitting a different profile in the marketplace.
I don’t think it’s any harder for us, but what’s attracting success for us is not only the operating system but the quality of the products. Whether it’s the quality of the screen, the battery life, the product speaks volumes for what you can expect for it. Android is catching on globally and locally, but really it’s the product that we’re most excited about.
Q: There’s a benefit to a person getting all of their gadgets – TVs, tablets, phones and so on – from one manufacturer, but it’s obviously unrealistic to expect many people to do that. How do you draw the line between making your products work better with each other and getting them to work with those of other manufacturers?
A: We’d obviously like people to have a full assortment of Samsung products, but practically speaking, that doesn’t always happen because manufacturers are at different stages with different devices. The idea is there are some connectivity features that are seamless when it’s just Samsung products, but then there are examples where they just work within [a larger] ecosystem. So our ChatOn messaging app is an example – it’s an app that’s designed specifically for our stuff, but it’s going to work on all the other platforms as well. It’s not just about focusing on what we have, it’s about offering the consumer choice, because that’s what they want. We’re not trying to pigeonhole what the consumer has to pick. We’re saying, “You pick the best of what you want.”
Q: Here at CES, we’re seeing a lot of companies, including Samsung, applying new interfaces such as gesture and voice recognition to things like TVs. What’s behind this move?
A: What you see here is a giant next step. This is not a small innovation, it’s a major change in how you interact with your TV and how it participates in your life. We’ve talked about the connectivity between devices, but now we’re talking about connectivity between the human being and the TV. You’re going to see tremendous app and software development around this. As we unveil it here, it is new to the world, so it’s like a starter’s pistol.
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