LG Electronics' mobile chief Cho Juno answers questions during a news conference to unveil the firm's latest V10 smartphone at a launch event in Seoul, in October last year. / Korea Times file
LG mobile chief Cho Juno challenges Samsung
By Kim Yoo-chul
Korea's top two handset producers plan to unveil new devices at this year's mobile expo in the Spanish city of Barcelona.
LG Electronics was the first among Google Android backers to send out official press invitations to a launch event at February's Mobile World Congress (MWC), which is all but certain to be where LG will introduce its G5 phone.
"A day ahead of the official opening of the MWC, LG plans to unveil a new flagship mobile via a press event," an executive at LG Electronics said Friday.
Last year, the LG Group's technology affiliate skipped the world's most-influential annual mobile convention to avoid being outshone by Samsung Electronics, which unveiled its new flagship device to gain most media attention.
"The unveiling of LG's new flagship handset was delayed months after the release of the new Samsung flagship handset," the executive said. "But this year will be different. LG Electronics is ready to take on Samsung."
Samsung Electronics' new mobile chief, Ko Dong-jin, earlier confirmed plans to release the Galaxy S7 at the MWC.
A spokesman at LG Electronics in Seoul said the company had no official comment about the possibility of a new flagship mobile at the MWC.
Fate of LG's mobile chief
The strategy shift comes after LG Electronics' mobile chief, Cho Juno, who is a de facto chief executive of the company, faces questions about his management ability after the mobile business' continued dismal performance.
LG Electronics released its previous flagship handset, the G4, at the end of last April.
While LG's management had confirmed that the G4 was selling well, market analysts estimated that so far it has underperformed the G3 by more than half.
LG's vision for recovery is through focusing on high-end devices, such as the new V10. But with two major high-end models launched a year, sales of the V10 have not been impressive.
"Considering the competitive landscape and LG Electronics' weak brand power in the field, we do not believe this is the road to success for LG Electronics and believe the company's handset business could well face continued or even increased pressure," said Bernstein Research's Mark C. Newman.
Cross-town rival Samsung, which is faring better than LG in sales and profit, named Ko as president of the company's mobile business, resulting in long-time CEO Shin Jong-kyun taking a role in managing overall strategies.
That has been widely considered as Samsung's reaffirmation to tackle market uncertainty and prevent a further decline in profit through technological upgrades.
Unlike Samsung's changes, LG Electronics offered a bigger role to Cho, who has more experience with management strategies than technology development.
"The nomination of Ko means Samsung's strategy is to pursue hardware innovation," said an official at one of LG's technology affiliates. "The reason why Cho has been given a second chance, despite his controversial ability, was that LG's upcoming flagship mobile device seems to have great potential, raising expectations that the G5 will be qualitatively different than those manufactured by its main Chinese rivals. LG's mobile chief Cho will be aggressive."
LG's target, the Samsung Galaxy S7, will have upgraded features in hardware and content but minimal surface change and will offer consumers a chance to buy the S7 at a cheaper price.
While the S7 will support high-end camera technology and faster in-house application processors, the LG G5 will follow Samsung's move to make its body from metal. It is very unlikely the G5 will use an OLED screen.
"LG's decision to choose the MWC for its new flagship is also partly due to enhancements of application processors supplied by U.S.-based mobile chip giant Qualcomm, as its two previous versions ― G4 and V10 ― had been forced to use Qualcomm's less-powerful Snapdragon 808 due to an overheating issue," the official said.
LG implied that the new model had an improved user experience because the invitation included the phrase "Play begin," with a small green present box.
"When you open the box, then you will experience new things," LG Electronics said.
One thing that is a near-certainty is that the new model will focus strongly on video streaming. LG said it was now in partnership with Netflix to help the service break into new territory. In return, LG is getting exclusive access to much of Netflix's content.