Photokina 2012: Interview - Sun Hong Lim of Samsung
In a year when Samsung refreshed its entire lineup of NX interchangeable lens cameras, adding WiFi functionality, the star of the Korean manufacturer's stand at this year's Photokina is the brand new Galaxy Camera. The closest thing yet to a camera/smartphone hybrid device, the Galaxy Camera offers the photographic capabilities of the WB850F compact camera combined with the operating system and processing power of the Galaxy SIII smartphone, along with WiFi and 3G / 4G connectivity. (Note though that it's not actually a cellphone, although in principle it can be used for Skype.)
Barnaby Britton caught up with Samsung's VP of Sales and Marketing, Sun Hong Lim at the stand, who explained why the Galaxy Camera is so important to Samsung, and why the Korean manufacturer is confident that it's a leader - not a follower. This is a follow-up to an earlier interview, published in March, prior to the release of the Galaxy Camera.
Mr Lim, something that a lot of people are asking us, is when they can buy the new Galaxy Camera, and how much it will cost?
The camera will be available in the fourth quarter of this year - the middle of the fourth quarter. Price is not fixed yet, discussions are ongoing with the major operators (phone carriers) and the price depends on many factors. It depends on the discussions we're having but we're trying to make it affordable to everybody.
Now that you've announced the Galaxy Camera, what do you think of the competition - Nikon's Android camera, the S800C?
I don't think of it as competition. It is totally different.
So what makes your camera unique?
We combined the best bits of a smartphone with the best bits of a compact camera together. This is not just a combination of two devices though, this is a new device, which is why we're positioning it as a camera. It's just a totally new type of camera. As you can see when you pick it up, the user interface is totally different [to a conventional compact].
We have several options - for the amateur photographers there are auto modes but if you're an expert we have an option where you can easily manipulate all of the features and functions. So we've tried to satisfy the amateur groups, and the expert groups, at the same time. This is the beauty of this device.
You've worked with the mobile phone division closely, I imagine, in creating this camera. Can you describe that process?
This is very cross-divisional work. We have the best team in the world for wireless technology, within Samsung, and also we have the imaging division. So we put the best of the engineers and developers together, to make the best possible device.
So this product is the result of the efforts of these two divisions, together. But not only these divisions actually, all divisions within Samsung worked closely together to create this device.
Is there a lot of shared technology between this camera and the Galaxy SIII smartphone?
Yes. The quad-core processor inside the Galaxy Camera for example is exactly the same as the Galaxy SIII.
When we spoke in Korea in the spring, you said that you thought that in the future, a non-connected camera would be meaningless. Do you still think that?
Definitely. Already we are living in the cloud era. You can save your photos in the cloud and those photos can be shared with family and friends very easily. We can share photographs in different cities, at the same time. This is a new benefit to consumers. All devices, TVs, PCs, smartphones and cameras can be connected, so you can enjoy the same content. Connectivity is the keyword for the coming years. So [the Galaxy Camera] is the perfect device.
What is the next step?
The consumer wants more and more, so we plan to expand innovative products like the Galaxy Camera.
Are you still putting energy and investment into lower-cost compact cameras, or are you focussing on the higher-end?
To be honest, the low-end compact camera segment will shrink, because of competition from smartphones, so I'm not really interested in that segment. We want to keep on upgrading our technology and we're going to grow. Without growth there is no future. We want to make the imaging industry bigger and bigger, so everyone can innovate together. By introducing new and innovative technology.
When you were planning the Galaxy Camera, what market research did you do?
We used a couple of research methods. We interviewed our target consumers, we were monitoring the habits of users of social network users, and also we were watching the smartphone market as well. Smartphones are growing very fast, and this has influenced not just the telecom industry, but all other sectors as well.
Because this is a perfect type of device for connectedness. You cannot leave the house without a smartphone today. Even 2-3 years ago we could not have predicted this kind of new way of living. But during the last couple of years smartphones have changed our lives a lot. So this brings us new ideas. That's why we analyze smartphone users and technology, and mobile internet technology [in coming up with devices like the Galaxy Camera].
|Samsung's Galaxy Camera, and the current NX range of ILCs is intended to fit into a connected 'ecosystem'. The new NX1000 (pictured) makes sharing very easy thanks to a direct Wi-Fi button on the camera's top plate, which initiates a menu for sharing with one touch.|
Are you worried that your NX models might appear a little old-fashioned by comparison?
Absolutely! We suspect that once you use the Galaxy Camera you won't be able to go back to a conventional camera. If you use a smartphone, could you go back to an older feature phone? Once you experience the future you cannot go back to the past.
Is the new technology that you've used in the Galaxy Camera going to end up in your more serious camera models?
We have studied this, and if there is a demand for this technology in higher-end cameras, then we should definitely try to meet it. This is our future. For the time being though, we're going to focus on this model, that's our first step. Then we can expand gradually.
You have Wi-Fi in your new NX models, what has the response been to this function?
Our users really appreciate this option. We have made our own surveys, and they are telling us that the Wi-Fi connectivity is one of the three main reasons why they buy NX. The other two are the high-quality sensors and the functionality.
How many of your users are taking advantage of the Wi-Fi connectivity in your current cameras?
I'd love to have that data but it's very difficult to get hold of. But according to our own survey, more than 50% of the users of Wi-Fi model owners use the function.
This new camera has more processing power than any other equivalent compact. Does this power have any positive impact on the camera as a photographic, as opposed to a connected device?
The image processing time is much faster than other cameras. Capture is one thing, but also image editing - you can download applications for editing images quickly, and share images immediately. The camera's powerful processor is useful for this. Also, because this is an Android device, we can update the firmware wirelessly. The device is intended to be connected 24 hours a day, so we can do real-time upgrades. The camera is an evolving creation, compared to a more conventional model.
What was the hardest thing about creating the Galaxy Camera?
The software. It takes a lot of time and effort to optimize the hardware and software to work together and this was the first time we'd done it. The first time is always a big challenge. But the next model will be much easier.
Are you confident that you can compete in the future?
Absolutely. We are a vertically-integrated company - we make lenses, sensors, displays… but also one of our strengths is in horizontal integration. We manufacture many different types of devices, cameras, smartphones, tablets, televisions and even home appliances. All of these products can be integrated when it comes to sharing content and services. Here we have a competitive edge compared to most other companies.
As a company we're the number one provider of mobile technology, and we are far ahead of any other company in this industry when it comes to wireless and 3G/4G technology, we've got the most IP of any company in the industry, so there's no doubt that we're leading. Other companies are introducing Wi-Fi in their new models now, they're just following us.
There's a lot of technology in the Galaxy Camera. Even for a vertically-integrated company like Samsung, it must be very expensive to produce. How do you reduce the cost for the consumer?
You must consider the business model when it comes to selling products like this. We have close relationships with mobile operators, which other companies don't have. That's another source of our competitiveness. We can develop new business models with these operators around the world. It will be another big hurdle for other camera manufacturers, who don't have those relationships.