Back in 1996 I was part of a small startup – Grey Cell Systems – which against all odds won a contract to write a PC based, GSM data stack for Samsung’s first mobile phone. A few weeks after we got the contract we were invited to a meeting at Samsung’s research centre near London, where the phone was being designed. A senior manager had come over from Korea to tell us Samsung’s vision. I could see all of the listening engineers trying to suppress as grin as his translator told the assembled audience that Samsung’s strategy was to become number one in mobile phones by 2001. At the time Samsung didn’t even have a phone – that would take at least three attempts and several years and none of us in that meeting could believe their optimism. They didn’t reach that goal. They still haven’t, but they’re not far off. And since 2003, they’ve been the only company Nokia has admitted to being scared of.
Samsung have made it to number one in Europe: in the first quarter of this year, shipping 13.2 million units – 600,000 ahead of Nokia. But for the last few years I’ve been tracking a slightly different metric – the combined sales of Samsung and LG, which I’ve called Korea Inc. They’ve been closing the gap and in the latest figures from IDC we can see that they can now claim supremacy, pushing Nokia firmly into second place.