Facing criticism over the design of the Galaxy S5 smartphone, Samsung's mobile design chief has been pushed out. Chang Dong-hoon has been moved to another area of the company and replaced by his second-in-command, Lee Min-hyouk. The change comes just a month after Samsung, the world's largest maker of smartphones, launched the Galaxy S5.
Chang initially offered to resign from the company, but he was instead reassigned to a corporate design position. "The realignment will enable Chang to focus more on his role as head of the design strategy team, the company's corporate design center which is responsible for long-term design strategy across all of Samsung's businesses, including mobile communications," said Samsung in a statement. The move is effectively a no-confidence vote in Chang's ability to create a winning smartphone design.
Samsung's Galaxy S devices have long been made from plastic materials. While the first few generations were decidedly cheap, the GS4 and GS5 both made moderate improvements in the quality and feel of the materials. They are still made from plastic, however, and Samsung has taken some flak for renouncing classier, more refined designs.
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Apple and HTC -- which both sell fewer devices than Samsung -- have crafted their flagship smartphones from aluminum. The two companies earn praise for their efficient, modern designs and use of materials. The metallic exteriors give both the iPhone and the One an air of quality that Samsung has been unable to match with its plastic designs. Nokia (now Microsoft) uses plastic in its designs, too, but it often opts for high-quality polycarbonate shells that are much stronger than the materials used by Samsung.
You might think that Samsung's choice of materials would be reflected in its margins, but that's simply not the case. The Galaxy S5's bill of materials is $50 higher than that of Apple's iPhone 5s.
Strong sales figures for the earlier Galaxy S generations may have convinced Samsung to stay the course with moderate design choices, but the winds of change are blowing hard against Samsung's sails (pun intended). Samsung initially hoped to sell 100 million Galaxy S4 smartphones during 2013. It didn't. As of today, more than a month after its debut, Samsung has yet to claim sales success for the Galaxy S5. Reuters called sales of the newest Galaxy S phone "tepid," though Samsung said they were better than previous Galaxy S debuts. Samsung hasn't provided any hard sales data.
Despite the change in leadership, it is premature to predict any wild changes in the way Samsung designs its phones. Lee has been with Samsung's mobile design team for several years now. He played a role in crafting the Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy S5. It is certainly possible that Lee will take things in a different direction now that he's the chief, but it is far from certain.
As demand for high-end devices slows, phone makers need to do more to make their hardware stand out. Perhaps Lee will help Samsung do that with future devices.
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