Innovation and technology resources, as well as the tech-savvy nature of Korean consumers who are eager to be at the forefront of market trends, have combined to fuel the remarkable development of Korea’s mobile phone industry. Indeed, this favorable environment has enabled Korean mobile phone makers to vault into the upper echelon of the global telecom market.
Kim Dong-suk Mobile Division Chief, Electronic Times
Kim Yong- chul Photographer
In February 2010, at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, Samsung Electronics unveiled its TouchWiz 3.0 interface, which is designed to facilitate social networking functions and multi-tasking UX. TouchWiz 3.0, which is featured in the Galaxy S, the smartphone Samsung released on June 25 as its response to the iPhone, signals the user when a new message has been received, without disrupting any ongoing call or function.
The world’s first mobile phone was Motorola’s DynaTAC, released in 1983. Weighing in at a hefty 1.3 kilograms, it brought to mind a brick or dumbbell. Up through the mid-1980s, Korea had not yet entered the global mobile phone market. But the history of Korea’s mobile phone did get underway in 1986, when Samsung Electronics launched the first domestically developed car phone, the SC-100, which was followed by the SH-100, in time for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Back then, the Korean mobile phone market was dominated by foreign-made mobile phones, such as those of Motorola.
But everything changed with the advent of the 1990s, as Samsung Electronics enjoyed sharp growth in its share of the domestic mobile phone market. By the 2000s, locally developed mobile phones from Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics emerged on the world market, where they quickly gained consumer acceptance with their trend-setting color LCD screen, camera function, customized ring tone, and stylish design. In 2002, Samsung Electronics became the world’s third-largest mobile phone manufacturer, and by 2007 rose to the No. 2 ranking of the global market.
Cho Jin-ho, vice president of Samsung’s Mobile Communication Division, noted: “Korea’s mobile phones are far ahead of overseas mobile phones, in terms of technology, including superior call quality and producing ultra-light and slim phones.” He went on to add: “It also helps that Korean mobile producers were able to establish sustainable business strategies and have been quick to respond to changes in the global mobile communication market.”
Text Input Technology
What kind of text input methods do mobile phones utilize? In today’s market, Samsung Electronics’ “Cheonjiin” (Heaven, Earth, and Human Hangeul) system and LG Electronics’ “Naratgeul” (National Writing) system are the most popular text input methods for mobile phones, with the Samsung method being the leader with a 70 percent market share. For English users, the U.S. T9 text input method is the mainstream standard, but due to the characteristics of the English alphabet there has not been a need to develop a variety of input methods such as that for Hangeul.
Mobile phone text input is a vital technology that generates some 720 billion won (about $625 million) of annual text-message revenue for mobile telecom providers. The scientific composition of Hangeul plays a key role in the mobile phone text-messaging business, while handset manufacturers believe that their text input method can bolster the market image of their products among consumers. And in fact, leading mobile phone makers have filed for patents to protect their proprietary input methods. In 1998, Samsung Electronics negotiated the rights for its system from its developer Choi In-chul and completed the patent registration process, while LG Electronics paid 1.0 billion won (about $870,000) for the usage rights of the “National Writing” system, which had been patented by the venture company Linguistic Science in 1999.
In particular, the Samsung “Heaven, Earth, and Human” system attracted considerable attention for its use of minimal keys for writing vowels. The number of keys required for consonants could not be reduced any further, but this was not true for Hangeul vowels. Korean vowels are written with a combination of elements, so it is possible for the number of keys to be reduced if the structural principles are adjusted. As a result of such structural adjustments, all Hangeul vowels can be expressed through a combination of only three keys.
Optimization of Input Methods
The QWERTY keypad, similar to a computer keyboard, has only recently become a topic of debate, in response to the smartphone launch in Korea. However, in the regions of North America and Europe, where Social Networking Services (SNS) is an integral aspect of mobile communication, the QWERTY keypad has long been accepted as a cultural code for younger generation users in English-speaking countries, where longer text and mobile email messages are popular. In the mid 2000s, in an effort to address complaints from consumers in the North American market, who said it was too cumbersome to send text messages with only nine keys, LG Electronics decided to change the mobile phone text input method. With the volume of text messages practically doubling every year, mobile phone users demanded an easier input method so that they could send off messages and chat as if using a PC.
Although various PDAs and smartphones had already installed the computer keyboard-style QWERTY keypad, there was no regular mobile phone with this feature. Even PDAs and smartphones were only used by a minority of consumers who were very familiar with IT gadgets. In response to this market void, LG Electronics developed a text message-friendly model, which came with a new QWERTY keypad, thus combining the advantages of a PDA with a mobile phone, which took the North American market by storm. The text-message phone market rapidly expanded around its core of younger generation users and businesspeople, with LG Electronics leading this sector with a wide array of innovative mobile phones, including those with touch-screen functions and a removable keypad, along with low-cost models.
In the process of mass producing the QWERTY keypad-equipped mobile phones, much effort and research were focused on the physical design and on assuring operational reliability. Because this phone has many more keys than a regular touch-screen display, additional testing is required to ensure that the keypad is durable, easy to use, and responds quickly. Moreover, every application and widget of the phone needs to be designed and installed in horizontal and vertical modes. As such, a phone equipped with the QWERTY keypad presents a serious design challenge because it makes the phone thicker. The Optimus Q (LG LU2300), recently released by LG Electronics in Korea, is earning high praise for its slim 14.35-millimeter thickness, even when equipped with a QWERTY keypad, as well as the ease of use of its keypad and the speed at which it converts from horizontal-vertical mode.
Russian President’s Phone
Meanwhile, early this year it became known that the LG Electronics 3G (third generation) Touch Watch Phone (LG-GD910) was being used by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, thus confirming the global appeal of Korea’s mobile phones. This model includes Internet and video-call capability, along with featuring a touch screen that measures 1.43 inches, about one-half the size of a regular mobile phone screen. Even when the LCD screen is turned off, the clock function is visible in sunlight or indoor lighting.
A number of technology innovations were necessary to create a 3G phone capable of offering video calling on a pocket-size device, which included the integrated circuitry for projecting sharp images on a small touch screen. The mobile phone model developed by LG can thus be regarded as an optimal integration of technology and design, which combines miniaturization technology with high-density instrument design. The phone features a 1.43-inch full-function touch screen that enables users to easily make calls and input text, along with time and alarm options, all at your fingertips. It also includes a simple voice-recognition function that allows users to initiate calls by voice command, as well as a TTS (Text-To-Speech) input method.
As the development of technology for next-generation mobile phones accelerates, the competition for relevant patents is intensifying as well. Samsung Electronics, which announced its goal of capturing the No. 1 world ranking in 2010, has been the most active in patent filings. Since 1998, Samsung Electronics has applied for 12,000 mobile phone-related patents in Korea, and another 25,000 abroad. In order to lead the way in the 4G (fourth generation) and mobile Internet standards, it has invested heavily in R&D efforts, which has resulted in some 100 Samsung Electronics technologies being selected as standards for the 3G and 4G mobile phones. Currently, Samsung Electronics has applied for some 3,000 mobile communication patents in 27 countries.
As for LG Electronics, it is focusing on patents related to MPEG4 video technology and user interface. It has thus applied for a large number of patents related to the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) and 3GPP2 specifications for 3G mobile communications, of which several patents have already been issued. LG also intends to pursue patents related to new technology for improving the quality of handsets and multimedia applications. LG Electronics has applied for 1,800 patents related to mobile phone technology in Korea and another 12,000 abroad. Pantech has also applied for about 4,000 patents in Korea.
LG Electronics has announced its plans to become the global leader in LTE (long-term evolution), a 4G mobile communications technology. Choi Go-Hee, head of the LG Electronics Mobile Communications Technology Research Lab., explains: “In the field of LTE, which has been widely adopted as the 4G mobile communications standard, LG Electronics is developing the world’s first technology in various areas and producing handsets, thereby establishing a broad foundation to become one of the world’s premier telecom enterprises.”
Under 4G mobile communications, the next generation of mobile technology, it will be possible to attain transmission speeds of 1 Gbps, while stationary, and 100 Mbps, while on the move at over 60 kph. This is 50 times faster than the transmission speed possible with WCDMA, while moving, and ten times faster than the fastest landline networks. With the 4G system, users will be able to download a 700 MB film in less than a minute.
TechIPm, a mobile communication consulting firm in the United States, reported that, of all the patents submitted to the U.S. Patent Office and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in the past year (as of May 2010), 1,238 patents have been related to LTE. Of these patents, 134 are applicable to mobile phones, notebook PCs, and PDAs, and are likely to be adopted as standards for the 3GPP. LG Electronics has filed the most patent applications, at 40 (30%), while Qualcomm ranks second at 30 (22%), and Samsung Electronics is fifth at 14 (10%).
In early 2004, at the Yeouido Twin Towers, the headquarters of the LG group, LG Electronics Mobile Communication Company President (then Vice President) An Seung-gwon received a surprise from Kim Ssang-su, CEO of LG Electronics, and Park Moon-hwa, CEO of the Mobile Communication Company. If the LG Electronics Mobile Communication Research Institute carried out its master plan to produce one truly innovative product each year, it would be exempt from the regular budget and product development status reports. This unconventional decision, difficult to imagine in any large-size corporation, where the reporting system is such a vital aspect of management, was the beginning of the “Chocolate Phone” secret project.
The proposal for this secret project came from President An’s own experiences. It was kept a secret because as more and more people get involved in a project, secrets begin to leak, and what may start out as an original product naturally becomes just like any other product as more and more suggestions are applied. In addition, he gave the task of designing the product not to a mobile phone designer but to an in-house music player design expert. He was able to take the design most appropriate to a mobile phone from a pool of concepts established in order to create an original portable audio device that would succeed in the competitive MP3 market, where design was key.
The ultimate goal was to produce a phone that the consumer would want to immediately buy at first glance. For this, LG envisioned the world’s slimmest model with a slide-top body, compact enough to fit easily in your shirt pocket. To accentuate the phone’s smart and stylish appearance, its exterior was pure black, while the typical lines and product logo showed a minimalist approach. Of note, for the first time ever in a mobile phone, its entire surface functioned as a touchpad, such that any operation only needed the touch of your finger. Painstaking effort went into overcoming various design issues, as the touch-screen technology enabled a slimmer look, but the touch keys had to be rigorously tested for reliability and durability. Moreover, the designers sought to have the phone, which was all black when closed, to come alive with color images whenever open.
From the initial planning, the Chocolate Phone project was carried out so that the product technology was developed to satisfy the designer’s ideas. After developing the technology to adopt the original design concepts, the designer made the final call at each step of the development process. In this way, it was possible to achieve the project goal of creating an innovative phone that appealed to consumer sentiments through product design, thereby drastically altering buyer attitudes toward function-related mobile phones. This was the story behind the LG Electronics’ launch of its “Black Label Series,” in which the mobile phone was no longer simply an IT device, but a consumer product and fashion accessory as well. The Chocolate Phone completely changed the image of LG Electronics mobile phones, and it was sold in the most countries for the longest period of time, becoming the company’s biggest seller at over 21 million units.
Ultimate User Experience
An ability to use your smartphone to check the news and weather, along with having a map application to guide you to the site of the nearest discount store, and then being able to compare prices—this kind of mobile convenience is part of the “user experience” (UX). The evolution of UX thus enables smartphone users to enjoy the advantages of a mobile experience from the home to the workplace, and everywhere in between.
In February 2010, at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, Samsung Electronics unveiled its TouchWiz 3.0 interface, which is designed to facilitate social networking functions and multi-tasking UX. TouchWiz 3.0, which is featured in the Galaxy S, the mobile phone released on June 25 as Samsung’s response to the iPhone, signals the user when a new message has been received, without disrupting any ongoing call or function. Another new feature is the integrated messaging service known as Social Hub. This function uses the mobile phone user’s address book to manage information from webmail services and messenger services abroad, and to automatically post updates to Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking services. Email and chat can also be used directly with the address book. For users who utilize advanced applications, such as SNS, it can link together Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace services to the phone’s address book and calendar, thereby optimizing the linkage to social networking services and appointment scheduling, at any time and place.
The user can check the weather, stock market, breaking news, and other information on the regular screen, or utilize special widgets, such as Hybrid Clock and Info Alarm, for the combined display of various information. Chang Dong-hoon, senior vice president of the Samsung Electronics Mobile Communications Business, said: “TouchWiz 3.0 is Samsung’s
new UX design, offering easy and convenient functions for the regular user, together with a variety of functions for the advanced user.” He went on to add: “We intend to upgrade the competitiveness of our smartphones through the application of a variety of functions that have been optimized for smartphones.”
As for Prada, whose name is synonymous with creative design, it is known for closely guarding the propriety of its creative processes in order to maximize the value of its design efforts. However, contrary to its secretive ways, Prada granted complete access to the Korean media, which inquired about the details of its collaborative project with LG Electronics for the development of the Prada Phone. Indeed, the openness of Prada was a reflection of its immense pride and satisfaction with the final product. LG and Prada unveiled their trend-setting Prada Phone in conjunction with the fashion week events of Milan, Italy, the traditional fashion center of the world. Founded in 1913 and now one of the top three designer labels in the world, Prada proudly unveiled the Prada Phone, which was designed and developed in cooperation with LG Electronics. The project partners carefully selected the retail stores and distribution networks as well. Among the more than 300 Prada retail outlets worldwide, only 20 outlets, with an exclusive image, were approved to market the product. In addition, about 300 top-tier department stores were selected as retailers of the Prada Phone.
The Prada Phone reflects the distinctive and sophisticated design associated with the Prada brand. The phone’s sleek form and elegant luster are highlighted by its deep black tone. The phone, without any raised number or function keys, features a 3-inch LCD touch screen that responds to a light touch of the finger for user operations. A bar-menu touch screen harmonizes with its stylish black form. Moreover, LG and Prada agreed not to promote their product through TV advertising, in an effort to enhance its aura as an exclusive luxury item that does not need the typical media exposure. The attention to detail also included the distribution of product display guidelines to the selected retail outlets.