A veritable prince of the realm in Korea and supremely well connected among the global elite, Lee, who has a net worth of around $8 billion, nevertheless is not widely known outside his native land. At home, Lee’s life as a single dad and the next-generation leader of Samsung makes him a boldface name. Even in Korea, however, it isn’t well understood exactly what he does. That’s partly because he has long been overshadowed by his larger-than-life father, Lee Kun-hee, chairman of the Samsung Group. ... The younger Lee’s profile is about to grow dramatically. In recent months he has made himself more visible, implicitly acknowledging that he is now the leader of the Lee clan and its business interests. The elder Lee, age 73 and Samsung’s chief for nearly 30 years, suffered a heart attack 14 months ago. He has been hospitalized ever since—at the same Samsung-owned facility where the MERS crisis began—and his condition is believed to be so grave that he cannot communicate and isn’t expected to recover. In other words, the man who built Samsung into a global powerhouse in everything from semiconductors to TVs to mobile phones has all but left the scene. And he has been succeeded—in actions, if not yet in title—by his relatively untested only son. ... A sense of healthy paranoia pervades Samsung that an insular mentality and a reliance on commodity products won’t serve it as well in the future as they have in the past. Samsung executives frequently reference the downfall of once-powerful Japanese electronics rivals such as Sony and Sharp.
They’re a physical commodity, but they’re also a meme — popularized by celebrities, shared endlessly on Twitter and Instagram and Vine, discussed to death by the chittering idea factory that is the English-language internet. ... One of those factories is Gaoke (or “High Tech”) Times, a midsize plant situated on 120,000 square feet in a Bao An industrial park. ... churn out 600 boards in a day, for customers in the U.S., U.K., Dubai, and Australia. ... In the two decades Gaoke has been here in Shenzhen, it has made desktop phones, then DVD players, televisions, mobile devices, and eventually tablets, which today are the largest part of its business. ... About six months ago, at the request of some of the company’s existing tablet customers, Gaoke had started manufacturing them. New product crazes present struggling businesses and eager entrepreneurs alike with an opportunity to leave behind glutted markets, and the nature of China’s booming electronics business is to be adaptable to the whims of a global market. ... Fang Zuoyi estimated that there are at least 1,000 factories in the Shenzhen area making hoverboards. ... It starts when a (typically) Western company, eager to cash in on a product made popular by the social internet, contracts a Chinese factory to make it. From here, the idea spreads throughout the elaborate social networks of Chinese electronics manufacturing until the item in question is being produced by hundreds and hundreds of competitors, who subcontract and sell components to each other, even as they all make the same thing. It reaches its saturation point quickly. It moves from product to product without sentiment. And it is proof that our never-ending digital output, our tweets and Vines and Instagrams and Facebook posts, has the power to shape the lives of people on the other side of the world.
The company’s genesis can be traced back to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, a world’s fair that took place in Chicago. A recent MIT electrical engineering grad, William Henry Merrill, was hired by insurers to investigate Nicola Tesla’s work illuminating the exposition, which apparently consumed three times as much electricity as the rest of the city of Chicago at the time. Buildings were catching on fire at the fair, and insurance adjustors wanted to know why. Realizing the myriad potential fire hazards that the burgeoning lighting and electricity industries could pose, Merrill decided to stay in Chicago and set up an organization dedicated to testing electrical products and writing safety standards for them. ... More than a century later, UL is still contending with the same problems Merrill saw at the Columbian Exposition—short circuits, faulty wiring, shoddy manufacturing; anything that can cause a product to catch fire. But for the most part, our electronics and houses don’t spontaneously combust, and, in the US, that’s generally because of the increasingly specific and bizarre tests UL puts products through.
According to scientists I spoke with, the quality of your slumber has more repercussions on your happiness, intelligence, and health than what you eat, where you live, or how much money you make. Not to be a downer, but chronic sleep deprivation, which Amnesty International designates a form of torture, has been linked to diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, learning difficulties, colds, gastrointestinal problems, depression, execution (the sleep-starved defense minister of North Korea is rumored to have been shot after dozing in the presence of Kim Jong-un), world disasters (the Challenger explosion, the Three Mile Island meltdown), and non-disasters ... Many scientists have come to believe that while we sleep the space between our neurons expands, allowing a cranial sewage network—the glymphatic system—to flush the brain of waste products that might otherwise not only prevent memory formation but muck up our mental machinery and perhaps eventually lead to Alzheimer’s. Failing to get enough sleep is like throwing a party and then firing the cleanup crew. ... A National Institutes of Health study showed that twenty-five to thirty per cent of American adults have periodic episodes of sleeplessness and twenty per cent suffer from chronic insomnia. On the advice of sleep doctors, fatigue-management specialists, and know-it-alls on wellness blogs, these tossers and turners drink cherry juice, eat Atlantic perch, set the bedroom thermostat between sixty-seven and seventy degrees, put magnets under the pillow, curl their toes, uncurl their toes, and kick their partners out of bed, usually to little avail. ... The ancient Romans smeared mouse fat onto the soles of their feet, and the Lunesta of the Dark Ages was a smoothie made from the gall of castrated boars.
Is there a workable business model for products that are built to last, rather than to fall apart? This is an idea that I explored here in July, in a story about the L.E.D. quandary. That quandary, in short: companies are making a good thing—light-emitting-diode bulbs that conserve energy and last for years—but they can’t make money in the long run from products that rarely need replacing. As global light sockets fill with L.E.D.s, century-old corporate titans are getting out of the bulb business even before “socket saturation” tips sales into a decline. The question remains whether any company has an incentive to make a product that is not designed to fall apart or become obsolete.
Smash an old TV, and you risk spewing lead into the air. Crack open an LCD flatscreen, and you can release mercury vapor. Mobile phones and computers can contain dangerous heavy metals such as cadmium and toxic flame retardants. Mexican workplace regulations, like those in the U.S., require e-waste shops to provide such safety equipment as goggles, hard hats, and masks. There’s little of that in Renovación. ... In much of the world, a place like Renovación couldn’t exist, and not only because business owners wouldn’t be allowed to employ people in those conditions. Twenty-five U.S. states and Washington, D.C., home to 210 million Americans, have laws establishing what’s known as extended producer responsibility, or EPR. That means electronics makers must collect, recycle, and dispose of discarded equipment rather than allow it to enter the waste stream. Parts of Europe also have this system. ... Manufacturers don’t do this work themselves. Typically, a state, county, or town establishes an e-waste collection program. Then recycling companies come to haul away the junk. The manufacturers pay some or all of the bill. The e-waste can be of any provenance. ... The lack of a formal, regulated recycling industry is one of many reasons Mexico has become a magnet for spent electronics. ... A ton of mobile phone circuit boards can produce 30 ounces of gold, worth about $39,000 at current prices.
Wiens, 33, is co-founder and CEO of iFixit, a company whose mission, he says, is to "teach everybody how to fix everything." On iFixit's website is a vast library of step-by-step instruction sets covering, well, let's see: how to adjust your brakes, patch a leaky fuel tank on a motorcycle, situate the bumper sensor on a Roomba vacuum cleaner, unjam a paper shredder, reattach a sole on a shoe, start a fire without a match, fill a scratch in an eyeglass lens, install a new bread-lift shelf in a pop-up toaster, replace a heating coil in an electric kettle, and--iFixit's specialty--perform all manner of delicate repairs on busted Apple laptops and cell phones. More than 25,000 manuals in all, covering more than 7,000 objects and devices. Last year, according to Wiens, 94 million people all over the world learned how to restore something to tiptop working condition with iFixit's help, which frankly was a little disappointing. Wiens's goal was 100 million. ... IFixit makes about 90 percent of its revenue from selling parts and tools to people who wouldn't know what to do with them if iFixit weren't also giving away so much valuable information. The rest comes from licensing the software iFixit developed to write its online manuals, and from training independent repair technicians, some 15,000 so far, who rely on iFixit to run their own businesses. ... Apple doesn't report just how huge that repair revenue is, but trade journal Warranty Week estimates that one proxy for that--sales of Apple's extended-warranty repair program, AppleCare--delivered the company a staggering $5.9 billion worldwide in 2016. ... "I'm really concerned about the transition in society to a world where we don't understand what's in our things," he says. "Where we are afraid of engineering, afraid of fact, afraid of tinkering. When you take something like a phone or voice recorder and you take it apart and you understand it enough to be able to fix it, a switch flips in your brain. You go from being just a consumer to being someone who is actually a participant."
The market for portable battery packs generated $360 million in the 12 months ending in March 2017 in the US alone. The brands behind these packs are largely anonymous — Kmashi, Jackery, and iMuto — and they often stay that way. ... Except Anker. The steady rise of the company’s profile is proof that it’s possible to meet one very specific consumer need and ride that wave as it continues to ripple out to other markets. A majority of Anker’s sales come from cables and wall chargers, and it’s now moving into the smart home and auto market — anywhere a plug and a cable can solve a problem. ... Yang and his team started a company with the sole purpose of selling a better third-party accessory. But they stumbled onto a more lucrative reality: mobile phones, once niche luxury items, are now ubiquitous centerpieces of our digital lives. Each of these phones, and all the products that connect to them, need their own cable and plug. And each and every day these devices die before we want them to. ... In many ways, Anker’s success is born from the failures of premier manufacturers like Apple and Samsung. Where those companies introduce points of friction — like ever-thinner devices with short battery lives — Anker offers a remedy. ... Anker takes a more straightforward approach by solving the inevitable problems technology creates.