How America Grades Samsung on Pass or Fail

Calling out on Galaxy Fold debacle as “graded on a curve” apparently was an understatement. It is time to face the ugly truth. Samsung already has a bad track record, and none of the reviewers had gull to question the product in their hand. These pre-launch reviews that had been published prior to the issue treated the smartphone as though it is a holy relic. Had it not been for the delay, these articles would have been nothing but praises from untrained eyes for a product that is essentially a bomb waiting to go off.

The issue is immediately obvious. Partly, it has to do with the reviewers’ general attitude toward technology; they demand future. Anyone who offers it gets unconditional love. Google Glass was a joke and still is a joke, but most reviewers took it serious enough. These articles rarely double check the claims. Doing some background checks should be an obvious step, but it became a rare sight. The history of abuses and hypes run deep in tech industry. And the past of these mega corporations run deeper and thicker than most average Americans think. President Trump gave an interview in 2015, a presidential candidate at the time, naming Samsung, LG, Sharp to be South Korean TV manufacturer — in his argument, he was trying to prove a point that manufacturing has been moved away from America. Regardless, Sharp is worth 16.3 billion dollars, and is a Japanese company. That is a 16 billions worth no-no from a president. Is America so great, where billions are some petty cash? 

Samsung’s reported net worth in 2017 was 265 billion dollars. We are talking about a conglomerate which is profoundly synonymous with Korean economy and is part of major political influence. Established in 1938, those of you who watch Korean TV shows might know its infamous smuggling scandal in 1966; where one of the members of national assembly threw shit —yes, a literal shit— in protest to Samsung’s illicit activities. For those who don’t, Samsung first released its mobile phone in 1986 with high hopes, whereas in 1995, Samsung was already burning its phones, around 150 thousands of them, in protest to its failing quality control in front of its workers. It didn’t stop Samsung from making a big move in Hollywood. In 2003, Samsung was pushing its futuristic phones to global market, such as ones in Matrix Reloaded, a cyberpunk-esque bar type slider. Lastly, quick recap of present days, in 2016, Galaxy Note 7 exploded, and in 2019, Galaxy Fold is yet to be launched after its pre-launch reviews explosively revealed some issues.

What is remarkable of this conglomerate is the capability it shows now. Samsung Group now generates around 211 billion dollars a year, about 17% of entire South Korean GDP. It is not a company we can write off lightly. For comparison, Apple is established in 1976 with a revenue of 265.6 billion dollars last year. Google, —Alphabet, to be exact— established in 1998, made 136.8 billion dollars. These two companies are in highly competitive market, whereas Samsung is crowned in a country often called as ‘the graveyard of foreign smartphones’ by Korean journalists themselves. Needless to say, these two American companies have much less influence, both socioeconomically and politically, as U.S. economy has around 20 trillion dollar GDP, about 12.5 times bigger than of Korea’s. With Apple and Google combined, they still make measly 401 billion dollars, around 2% of GDP. Just imagine a mega corporation with a political influence that of 8 times bigger than Apple and Google combined.

(note: I was asked to update the segment of the piece, as revenue-to-GDP comparison is not only inaccurate but political in its nature. The comparison is made to make a measurable number for each company in each home country; it is meant to weigh socioeconomic and political influences in literary realistic manner. “Mega corporation” was supposed to be a dead set give away. To give you an accurate representation of where Samsung is: Apple-Google combined takes 5.5% of total U.S. market capitalization, whereas Samsung, 30.7%, about 5 times larger; or, Apple-Google combined paid 4.6% of total U.S. corporate taxes, whereas Samsung, 38.6%, about 8 times larger. Pick your poison.)

(note: Great, now someone sent me a published article citing top 10 conglomerates’ revenue accounting for 67.8% of Korean GDP, assets 110% of GDP, with Samsung 42%, asset-wise. The author behind the statistics is indeed an economist, so no more “fake news”, I guess. Look, I appreciate the candors from Korean readers, but please send me an op-ed with your name on it instead of picking a bone over emails. That’s what this site is for.)

Take Japan, for instance, another Asian nation with a similar socioeconomic structure and also a home of popular appliance manufacturers. In 2017, Samsung alone made double the total profit (50 billion USD) of Sony, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Sharp, Toshiba, and NEC combined (23 billion USD). With Japan’s 5 trillion dollar GDP, you can get a sense of how big of a conglomerate American media scuffed off so lightly. It is the company housed in an economy that are roughly one third of Japan.

It’s not just numbers that speak unnerving nature. Most Chinese manufacturers, when brought up on any discussion often go through a background check of sort. We discuss whether the manufacturer has any chance of surviving another year for warranty; we discuss whether the manufacturer has any human rights issues; on top of all of that, we discuss privacy policies of these companies and whether products meet our standards. I, personally, find these checks to be weird, but acceptable —Chinese government so far has not been keen on helping consumers, domestic or global. But often when Samsung is discussed, the media literally changes the light under which it will be inspected. Samsung’s infamous burning —either as a protest or as an accident— phones and their mismanagement of consumers don’t follow through in discussion of its succeeding lines of phones. Same goes for the washer; same goes for the human rights issues; and, same goes for Samsung’s peeping TV cameras. Its track record speaks for itself, yet everyone goes deaf in the following year.

Yet another disturbing fact is that Samsung likes to buy out as much as commercial time as possible. In 2017, Samsung took over as a world’s largest advertiser with 11.2 billion dollars. That’s some “heart” as Koreans been calling. For comparison, the entirety of tech sectors spent 18.9 billion dollars. Apple had released its final and highest marketing budget in 2015 with nerve-racking 1.8 billion dollars, and that spending raised red flags for Apple. In the following year, Samsung spent 10.2 billion. Samsung spends as much as 10 times over what Apple does, yet we see no Simpsons episode on “Do What You Can’t”. Allow me to throw some numbers in. In 2017, Google(Alphabet) had spent 5.1 billion in marketing, Amazon, 6.3 billion. LG, a South Korean company, spent 1.2 billion in 2015. On a negative note, in 2012, the year Fukushima went nuclear, Samsung was nominated for the worst company on Earth due to its leukemia-causing work environment, but didn’t win Public Eye Award. The South Korean company was around six thousands votes short from the award, and one thousand votes short of TEPCO, the company that caused Fukushima. But hazardous work environment in a developed country barely made a headline until 2014, when Samsung officially issued an apology without settlement, and then again in 2018, when Samsung settled the lawsuit which lasted 11 years.

Which brings us back to Galaxy Fold, a product which should be making its ways to consumers in May, now delayed till further notice. To quote The Verge on this: “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs first.” True, except a man is no chef if he does not know when to crack an egg to cook eggs. Samsung already has two big ticket items on its hands with dubious launch dates. Galaxy Home, a Bixby powered smart speaker, did not make it to the store shelves by April. Galaxy Fold was delayed in late April and yet to be seen. Koh, co-CEO of Samsung Electronics, had originally said a new release date will be announced in early May. Not few days ago, Koh also said a new release date will be announced in few weeks. For obvious reasons, BestBuy has canceled pre-orders on Galaxy Fold. When Apple was teasing with, and then subsequently canceled AirPower, most media had picked up on each moment, with less formal outlets piecing together clues in between for more articles, hammering down on a possible vaporware. What grants one so much coverage, while the other, so less?

In fact, when read in Korean context, a lot of articles translated over to English has a very different tone in the region. Before the debacle, CEO Koh had said the development of Galaxy Fold was influenced by the young chairman Lee with his comments. After the debacle, most reputable newspaper only mention Koh, and not a single bit of Lee. Most Korean readers, knowing the company’s methods, mocked Samsung for using its CEO as a meat shield. The very fact that journalists asked a CEO of a chairman’s involvement is strange enough. But it is odder that none of the Korean media got their hands on Galaxy Fold til late May. We would imagine Korean media would be the first to get their hands on as Samsung is a Korean company. But apparently, Samsung had other ideas in mind. In my opinion, whatever that strategy was, would have paid off if it weren’t for failures. Heck, it was enough to buy out a vocal critic on YouTube to talk about Bixby much favorably. In South Korea, KBS News was the first national media to obtain the problematic device in late May, while in America, we had bloggers, YouTubers, and journalists alike, who were selected as “reviewers” in April, as long as they were strong influencers on social networks. Unfortunately, none of them checked twice before releasing an article on an experimental device.

I understand the urge to devour these gizmos. They are extraordinary. Perhaps one of them could be the next big thing that will change our day-to-day on about. But printing out a passing grade on a product that is not likely to make it, and the fact that it was not forewarned only shows cracking integrity. After all, it is indeed odd that media doesn’t deliver the wholesome story on a proper platter: the drama, the family feud, and shits. Yes, the shits.

updated Jun 13, 2019: Added a note on mega corporation and Samsung in U.S. comparison.

updated Jun 26, 2019: Added a second note on mega corporation and Samsung in U.S. comparison.

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