Galaxy’s new stars

Give him a plate of masala dosa and innovations will pour out. A chat with Samsung’s mobile chief, DJ Koh

  • Published 7.03.19, 8:31 PM
  • Updated 7.03.19, 8:31 PM
  • 4 mins read
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The Samsung Galaxy S10e, S10 and S10+ Picture: Samsung Electronics

I try to make quality devices at affordable prices,” said DJ Koh while having a boomerang moment with Samsung’s latest flagship device, the Galaxy S10+, turning it around a couple of times. The president and CEO, head of IT & mobile communications division, Samsung Electronics, is one of the most sought after figures in the world of smartphones. He not only shoulders the responsibility to keep the South Korean company the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, it is under his supervision that some of the most recognisable phones have been created. His obsession with innovation always sets a benchmark that Apple and the rest have to match.

A rare opportunity to meet D.J. Koh arose hours after the India launch of the Galaxy S10e, S10 and S10+ on Wednesday in Delhi. Always direct with his answers, he never fails to offer a clear picture of Samsung’s roadmap. Here are excerpts from an interview with the man who always loves coming to India. “I’m always happy here. In the morning, a plate of masala dosa is all I need to make me happy,” he said.

DJ Koh, president and CEO, head of IT and mobile communications division, Samsung Electronics, at the India launch of the Galaxy S10 series in Delhi on Wednesday.
DJ Koh, president and CEO, head of IT and mobile communications division, Samsung Electronics, at the India launch of the Galaxy S10 series in Delhi on Wednesday. Picture: PTI

On the importance of the Indian market

Indian millennials are very interested in technological innovations; this is one of the most important markets for me and we have been investing a lot here. Manufacturing locally is important; it is something we had started in 2007 in India. Our manufacturing facility in Noida is now the largest mobile factory. Also, last September we opened the largest experience store (Opera House) in Bengaluru.

Last year, around February, I had a meeting with my partners, who handle only Samsung products; I listened carefully to what they wanted. Then we delivered the new Galaxy M series and the upgraded Galaxy A series, including the A7 (which has a triple camera setup on the rear) and the A9 (has a quad camera setup). I have changed the organisation to respond to the wants and needs of Indian customers. To meet the bold range of the demands of the millennials and Gen Z has been a satisfactory challenge. Sometimes I say, if I take a nap, I would die. That’s the reason I don’t take naps.

On bringing top features to mid-segment phones

Our partners in India said they wanted to see innovations across device categories and not just on flagship models. When I returned to Korea, I channeled all my attention — changing the way our R&D works — to put new technology ahead of device categories. Thus arrived the triple camera and the quad camera on the Galaxy A7 and A9. Then that technology moved towards the flagship models. It works. My partners and customers loved it. The Galaxy M series is sold only online and our partners accepted this strategy; they didn’t complain. The relationship we share is based on trust.

On the component-versus-product roadmap

In terms of components, I have a roadmap of five-seven years; in some cases 10 years. But in terms of products.... When we prepare the long-term roadmap of components, we have to think of everything, from module design, hardware and software. This helps to deliver some products in one year and some in less than six months. Almost every month, my team here and even from Korea, look at the demands of our partners and we hear from our customers directly. Product-wise we have a roadmap of about 18 months. Then we also have to see what our competitors are delivering and that also influences the roadmap. This is crucial because Indian customers are tech savvy, especially Gen Z.

On Galaxy Fold coming to India

Yes, the Galaxy Fold will come to India. With all my investment in the Indian market, why will I not deliver my newest technological innovation?! We started with the foldable display nine years ago. Now it is time to say something meaningful. As long as we can do this, the foldable phone segment will continue to grow. Samsung has always been an innovator. When the Galaxy Note came, our rivals criticised it but today all large smartphones have big screens. We defined a new category of mobile phones. People want bigger screens but they also want mobility. So the possibility of foldable phones growing is very bright and that is why we are investing in it.

On Galaxy S10 5G in the Indian context

We are working with the carriers. It all depends on their progress. Samsung is ready to support all 5G frequencies. In terms of the supply side and technology, there is no problem. But the deployment should take into view the best user experience.

On the future of Bixby, the virtual assistant

Our aim in terms of the AI platform is slightly different from that of others. If Google is focused more on search and the other guy (Amazon) on shopping, I believe in open collaboration. Bixby is working with Google. Bixby is working with Microsoft. When customers ask Bixby about shopping, it directly connects with Amazon. But Bixby is more focused on hands-on experience on my device.

We have changed the structure of Bixby and have opened it up to our partners. We are expanding languages. I have a long-term plan for the Bixby experience. At Samsung we are not just making smartphones but also TV, washing machines, refrigerators... the idea is to have a connected future. By 2020 all Samsung products will be IoT embedded; all will be connected by an AI platform.

The Samsung Fold
The Samsung Fold Picture: Samsung Electronics

On virtual reality

With 5G coming in, 2019 will be the turning point technologically. And everyone is talking about AI and 5G coming together. I think this is an era of technology blossoming. 5G will allow higher download speeds and it will give you a better experience at gaming with VR plus AR. We call this MR or mixed reality and we are working with gaming companies. For example, with a game like Harry Potter on 4G, the number of times you can cast a spell with the wand maybe twice or thrice per second.

With 5G you can shoot it 10 times more. With 4G you cannot deliver ultra-high quality on the VR front. 5G changes it all. You can have VR, AR, MR and video streaming services. With the technological progress of lenses, AR is growing quickly. But with VR, there is a device you wear on the head and some people like to use it for 30 minutes and some for 10 minutes. But with 5G allowing better speeds, you can enjoy a game (on VR) without feeling dizzy. The time is coming for tethering technologies with 5G at the heart. The difference between VR on 4G and 5G is like having a Mumbai dosa and a Bengaluru dosa.

On the future of Galaxy S10e

I try to make quality devices at affordable prices. There are people whose hands may not be big, so for them the S10e is a good fit. During pre-booking the demand has been for the S10 and S10+ because they have been booked by people who are early adopters and the tech savvy but I have faith in the S10e; it is robust and a long-term product.