Humbled LG pressed to impress in Las Vegas
By Kim Yoo-chul
The planet's most influential technology companies, with the glaring exception of Apple, are flocking to Las Vegas for the annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES).
The trade fair provides a venue for firms to showcase their latest groundbreaking products and technologies that will reshape shopping habits and consumer electronics behavior for the next 12 months and beyond.
But for Korea’s LG Electronics, which has been losing groundin its main markets like mobile devices over the past year, Las Vegas will be an opportunity to regain a firm grasp on the present as much as aspire for the years ahead.
As in the past few years, futuristic televisions supporting stereoscopic images and Internet connectivity are expected to set the tone for this year’s CES.
Attempting to steal the show will be mobile Internet devices like smartphones and touch screen tablets, a path that has been paved by Apple. It will be “me-too” products invading Las Vegas.
With Apple snubbing the show, as it always does, Samsung Electronics, the Korean technology giant that is solidifying itself as the new ``Big Blue,’’ will be the heavyweight at the exhibition.
That clearly puts even more pressure on domestic rival LG to outshine and company officials are promising a wide range of ``wow’’ products in televisions and mobile devices to impress.
While Samsung is leading LG in nearly every table that matters, the latter says it’s beginning to produce products with differentiated features and advanced technologies that give the company a real shot at closing the gaps.
Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee will be at the CES along with his son and heir Lee Jay-yong. It remains to be seen whether the Lees will run into LG Electronics CEO Koo Bon-joon, the brother of LG Group Chairman Koo Bon-moo, as they tour the gadget-filled hallways.
``We will be impressing participants, clients and journalists at this year’s CES,’’ a senior LG executive declared.
The company remained tightlipped on whether Koo will be available to take questions from reporters. The last time the CEO made a meaningful public appearance was at the previous CES last year.
He wouldn’t have liked the questions that were fired toward him anyway. LG suffered from a wider-than-expected operating loss in the last 12 months hit by sapped global demand for technology products. And even before the dismal 2011, the company was paying heavily for arriving late in smartphones and tablets.
When talking to LG sources ahead of the flight to Las Vegas, it seemed unlikely that Koo will be talkative at this year’s CES.
The company’s television chief Kwon Hee-won, its white goods head Shin Moon-beom, and LG Display CEO Han Sang-beom are among the senior officials scheduled for news conferences on the sidelines of the trade fair.
``I don’t know why (Koo insists on not meeting the media). This year, they looked quite prepared in product competitiveness,’’ said one industry official.
``As CEO, Koo should meet the media to clarify speculation surrounding the company. LG always has a frustrating sense of passiveness, so this isn’t surprising.’’
Shin is set to meet the press on Wednesday from 3 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel.
``I don’t think the time is right for our chief executive to meet the media. Bon-joon will probably officially appear at next year’s CES,’’ said a high-ranking LG executive.
Chairman's stress on tech focus
While his younger brother seems stuck for words, Chairman Koo has been quicker to deliver bold comments recently. During a meeting with senior executives earlier this month, Koo vowed that LG Electronics’ future will depend on its ability to regain its technological edge.
``We should produce quality goods to markets ahead of rivals, he said.
``In televisions, we need to make products with better pictures and better power efficiency. It would be great if we could make smartphones that last longer too. We also need to redouble our efforts to distinguish ourselves in home appliances and deliver efficient products that reduce household bills.’’
Company officials and market watchers say LG Group is shifting again to a technology-driven company by spending more on technology development rather than marketing to close the widening gap with Samsung and expand the shares with its overseas rivals.
At this year’s CES, LG will show off an 84-inch high-definition 3D TV with 3840-by-2160 resolution, four times the resolution of 1080p HD-TVs.
Also, it will display what it claims is the world’s largest organic light emitting diode display. The new TV has a 55-inch screen, is 0.16-inches deep, weighs 16.5 pounds and promises a response time of less than .0001 milliseconds.
Software giant Google has put LG Electronics on its list of partners. Under the agreement, LG will showcase the so-called ``Google TV,’’ powered by the American firm’s Android software.