Ask anyone what the highest rated phone is and they will likely say the iPhone, when in fact many review sites have a different winner: the Samsung Galaxy Edge. Samsung isn’t just a company, it’s the size of a country and made up of an assortment of companies and partnerships. The scope of products and services they provide is mind boggling. They have more employees than Google, Microsoft and Apple combined. Now estimated at half a million employees and growing every year by tens of thousands. 70,000 of those are engineers working to create the next generation of Samsung products. Innovation has always been at the core of Samsung, pushing to not just be the market leader in sales but also product technology. Markets in which they dominate include mobile phones, flat screen televisions, display drivers, computer memory, refrigerators and signage. TechRadar’s list of the best flat screen televisions is half Samsung products.
It’s hard to imagine but Samsung once had humbled beginnings which started back in 1938. Lee Byung-chull started it as a small trading company with about the equivalent of $27. They did trade in goods produced in town, mostly fish and noodles and they grew and grew. Not long afterword they started getting into other businesses, like sugar refining, textiles and insurance. This became the defining corporate strategy for Samsung, constant expansion into completely different products and markets. By the ’70s they were doing electronics.
Samsung Electronics is the flagship and nearly half of those revenues are driven by the mobile & computer business. There are a lot of companies in Korea who simply build products that are designed by foreign firms but that is not what Samsung does, they are the designers and they makes huge investments in R&D. The result is a massive push against all the industries they compete in by trying to outdo their competition. They spend more for R&D than any other tech company on the planet and file more patents than any other US company. Their Galaxy Edge S7 and S8 phones are considered the real contenders to the hegemony of Apple’s iPhone and their flat screen TVs and consumer electronics are on the cutting edge. What is most innovative of Samsung is their structure, most companies would not diversify into such differing fields but Samsung was founded on this diversification. It was built on perpetual growth into unknown markets. Samsung is growing so fast that it’s hard to get a solid metric just how many employees work at the company at any given time. Just a decade ago it was only half its current size but revenues, employee count and R&D spending have doubled, a fair portion due to its entrance into mobile phones.
Pushing the boundaries of flat screen televisions they recently introduced a quantum dot flat screen television at CES 2017. These QLED TVs have what is referred to as 100% color volume meaning that even the bright scenes won’t wash it. You can watch in the middle of the day and still see amazing contrast. Imagine what it’s typically like using your laptop or watching the television with the window open, the glare of the screen and loss of contrast is quite severe. Some LCD screens will wash out completely in direct sunlight. This new technology promises to put that all to an end if you have the money (or can wait for the price to come down!). It’s designed to absorb more light instead of reflecting it and features over one billion unique colors. These screens do not suffer from viewing angle problems either that are so common with typical LCD screens. This all demonstrates why as much as 50% of the top televisions are Samsung.
Samsung’s construction business takes on some of the world’s most complicated projects, including the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. They’ve bridges, tunnels, subways, dams and other massive projects that take a ton of expertise and planning. The most complicated is the building of nuclear power plants which Samsung has been one of the leading construction firms. The construction division goes all the way back to 1977 and somehow within 5 years was getting over a billion dollars in contracts and they now do tens of billions of dollars each year from construction projects around the world.
Samsung has also made a bet on virtual reality, teaming up with Oculus to produce the Gear VR. Designed specifically for their phones and featuring a well-made motion enabled controller. Players can immerse themselves in videos, games and interactive presentations and the price is really quite reasonable. When you spend over 14 billion in R&D you have some room to dedicate time to interesting ideas and moonshots. Here’s some interesting things Samsung has been working on:
With the intense pressures of international competition you might think that Samsung is slowing down as many companies typically make small investments in R&D, mostly re-developing the same product with slightly better features. But Samsung bucks that trend by making huge investments in engineering and new products. Apple, Sony, LG and others must constantly be innovating and releasing better devices, otherwise within a couple generations Samsung will pass them by leaps and bounds. While Samsung has not always been the inventor of the big new disruptive technologies, when they see something they like, they throw their heart and soul at it. Through incremental innovation they end up pushing the whole technology forward and becoming market leaders.