In the daily cycle of covering the latest rumors and facts about smartphones, smartwatches, tablets and other mobile technology, we know that readers gravitate to the specs and the controversy first and foremost. Clickbait is well-attuned for that kind of thing.
But we also pick up on some pieces of news that fly by night past most reading eyes, but that also provide vital background and subtle clues as to where manufacturers have their futures laid out. That’s why we’re taking this moment to bring out three stories you might have passed on that we think deserves a second look. All of them happen to be somewhat negative in tone and outcome
These stories are in no particular order, but we have to start off with:
Corruption at Samsung
At the heart of Samsung’s many business — petrochemicals to insurance to, yes, electronics — is a family that controls a fortune of hundreds of billions of dollars. In late summer, the CEO of the chaebol, Lee Jae-yong, was convicted on multiple charges, but the biggest part of the docket was bribing the previous South Korean government — former Presdent Park Geun-hye was herself deposed by the National Assembly, charged with influence peddling on a wide scale with the help of her aide.
Lee — who’s heir to the company fortune and the effective decision-maker since his father took leave after a heart attack in 2014 — was said to have paid millions to associated entities to ensure that a merger went through. The transaction was key to sealing up control of the conglomerate after activist investors tried to rally up a change in the corporate structure of Samsung Electronics, the company’s most wide-reaching operation. The modification could have driven up motive to return profits to shareholders.
The chaebol has new, relatively young co-CEOs and new leadership at its major divisions including at Samsung Electronics. Will investors try again and, perhaps, succeed in bringing about their reforms? It will depend in part on how this “fresh blood” performs and how that performance is perceived. It will also rely on investors keeping their bloodthirst down.
LeEco flops in the world
Chinese businessman Jia Yueting had built up his digital and electronic empire in the span of about a dozen years. He would begin to see it crumble once he started spending all of his capital towards expanding it across the world.
LeTV, a spin-off of formerly popular digital media group Leshi, started making phones and other appliances in 2015 for parts of greater Asia. With a major partnership stoked with Qualcomm at CES 2016, it became clear that the company was leveraging all the capital it could to be known far and wide.
It soon had acquisition plans for Faraday Future, a fledgling electric car manufacturer, and one of the United States’s most popular brands for TVs, Vizio. The whole shebang, now known as LeEco in the hopes to associate with an ecosystem of products, made a splash in the American market in 2016 — a lucrative target for entrenched Chinese firms. The initial buzz, however, reached pretty much no one and it took more time to do retail outreach than LeEco’s money could buy. Bloated international ranks got cut, payroll wasn’t being made and money was taken off the share market in the midst of crisis. It turned out that this expansion effort ended up bleeding home operations dry as the health of Leshi deteriorated.
We were once told to expect a smart bicycle, an auto factory in Nevada and so much more from this company. The hope now is that it gets by with television sales and media packaging deals targeting Chinese-language households in the United States.
Success and failure at TCL
You may know that TCL is the one making great mid-range and even top-end phones for the odd client and its own Alcatel brand. It was able to expand on that work with the pick-up of the full BlackBerry license. It was even going to try and ramp up the dormant Palm name with a new smartphone.
But for the past year-and-a-half, the company has been losing money. Up until recently, its sales figures have been mediocre. And while there’s some clamor about the new BlackBerry releases, shipments could still be mediocre relative to qualitative output if the company is spending more money than it’s able to take back in revenue — revenues dropped on an annual basis for the past six quarters. And while we appreciate a notion towards quality and even a glint of selflessness as tech cognoscenti, that’s not a way to run a business.
TCL Communication sold 49 percent of the company to two firms from mainland China in October. What that means for what TCL makes and how it approaches the market with those products is anyone’s guess as we head into 2018. We’re pretty sure that iterations are on the way for BlackBerry, but there’s historically been little attention paid to Alcatel pre-release activity. And then there’s that wild card Palm phone that may give us a little intrigue, but won’t in all likelihood shake the market to its core.
Whatever the case may be, there are always lessons to be taken away from these pitfalls. They may be repeated over the course of history, but at least if you’re watching out for the warning signs, you can potentially reduce your risk of mobile tech displeasure in the future.