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.
In the first quarter of 2016, Huawei sold 10 times as many phones as Apple in Finland, according to research firm IDC. And in October it soared ahead of Samsung for the market-share lead. ... Today you can’t stride through Helsinki without encountering a Huawei billboard. You can’t watch Jokerit, one of the country’s top hockey teams, without seeing Huawei’s flower-in-bloom logo. And you can’t find an electronics store where Huawei’s phones don’t outnumber Samsung’s and Apple’s. ... Enter Huawei—probably the most viable contender yet to loosen the giants’ grip. It’s a 170,000-employee company with $61 billion in sales, selling telecom equipment in 170 countries. Since 2014 it has been No. 1 globally in sales of the networking equipment that underpins telecommunication systems, taking the crown from Sweden’s Ericsson. And now its goal is to dominate the market for the phones themselves. It has taken big strides toward doing just that in China and in growing swaths of Europe—helped in those Western countries by side deals with wireless carriers that have not previously been reported.
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.
Striving for perfection in mind, body and spirit is a Korean way of life, and the cult of endless self-improvement begins as early as the hagwons, the cram schools that keep the nation’s children miserable and sleep-deprived, and sends a sizable portion of the population under the plastic surgeon’s knife. ... I have come to South Korea to find out just how close humanity is to transforming everyday life by relying on artificial intelligence and the robots that increasingly possess it, and by insinuating smart technology into every aspect of life, bit by bit. Fifty years ago, the country was among the poorest on earth, devastated after a war with North Korea. Today South Korea feels like an outpost from the future, while its conjoined twin remains trapped inside a funhouse mirror, unable to function as a modern society, pouring everything it has into missile tests and bellicose foreign policy. Just 35 miles south of the fragile DMZ, you’ll find bins that ask you (very politely) to fill them with trash, and automated smart apartments that anticipate your every need. ... The automation of society seems to feed directly into the longing for perfection; a machine will simply do things better and more efficiently, whether scanning your license plate or annihilating you at a Go tournament. ... the mood is not one of luxury and happy success but of exhaustion and insecurity.