The most successful mobile phone to date is considered to be the Motorola RAZR. Released in 2004, the RAZR remained on Motorola's product list for four years, racking up sales of 130 million units around the world. Its sleek design, supposedly reminiscent of a razor, and metallic buttons proved an explosive success.
It generated huge profits for Motorola but paradoxically ended up becoming the cause of the company's downfall. Motorola executives grew complacent due to its huge success and slacked off on developing new products. The company rolled out follow-up products that featured only minor cosmetic changes to the RAZR or slightly altered the name to KRZR or RIZR, but these handsets failed to attract consumers. It was like a series of sequels to a hit movie flopping at the box office. After suffering major losses, Motorola was acquired by Google last year.
Innovation happens when old things are discarded and new ones embraced. For example, Samsung Electronics' Galaxy series of smartphones underwent a kind of "creative destruction." The top-selling smartphone in Korea right now is the Galaxy S2, which racked up accumulated sales of more than 5 million units in the first nine months of its release. It looks similar to the original hit Galaxy S, but inside it is a totally different product.
In order to make the smartphone 1 mm thinner, developers at Samsung revamped all of the components, from the screen to the design of individual parts. As the product's release date neared, they ate and slept at the office to meet the deadline. In the process, the company rolled out 550 different smartphones of different designs. Many of them faded away unnoticed.
This could be seen as inefficient. Apple only rolls out only one new iPhone model each year but makes huge profits. Steve Jobs, the late founder and CEO of Apple, pursued innovation so aggressively that he earned a reputation for being a monomaniac. Thanks to his efforts, Apple was able to achieve record-high earnings last year. But after Jobs died, Apple's passion for creativity and innovation appears to have waned. The iPhone 4S, which was released during the second half of last year, was criticized for offering few changes to its predecessor, the iPhone 4.
In the meantime Samsung has caught up quickly and is practically jostling with Apple for the No. 1 position in terms of smartphone sales. Samsung Electronics top executive Choi Gee-sung said in early 2007, when he took over the helm of the conglomerate's mobile phone operations, "Wei Zheng, a premier during the Tang Dynasty, said it only takes a year to change the world, and three years is too late." Although Samsung fell slightly behind in developing smartphones, its fast-paced development and wide line-up of models proved successful in overturning the odds stacked against it due to Apple's market dominance.
But Samsung is still unable to create new things and lead the way in rolling out innovative new products like Motorola or Apple. Motorola developed the world's first mobile phone in 1973 and led the market until recently. Apple proved with the iPhone that mobile phones could be used for more than just making calls. Without exception, even companies like that can slip and fall quickly if they grow complacent for just a short time. The No. 1 spot is a fleeting one. Failure to embrace innovation and resting on present success can cost a company dearly.
By Kim Hee-sup from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk