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Korean firm supplies the key(pad) to Razr phone’s success

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Sept 10,2006
In the cell phone universe, there seem to be a million options. But one stands out. The Razr. Sleek. Reliable. Cool. Two years after its debut, Motorola’s mobile handset, Razr, has become a best seller in its market, selling more than 50 million units worldwide. But unknown to most of the world is the fact that a Korean company has contributed to the Razr’s success. Sam-young Technology developed and now supplies Razr’s 0.65-millimeter slim keypad. Previous handsets either had plastic or silicon keypads. Samyoung’s keypad employs a single slice of metal, which helps make the Razr, well, razor thin. The development of the metal keypad comes from the experience of company president Suh Tae-shik, 43. Mr. Suh majored in industrial design at Yeungnam University near Daegu in North Gyeongsang province and worked 10 years as a watch designer for SWC, previously known as Samsung Watch. He started to develop mobile handset parts and founded Samyoung Technology in 2001. Using technology that produced dial plates for watches, Mr. Suh developed the metal keypad in 2003. His metal keypad reduced the thickness of previous keypads by a third. And the metal design made it more attractive. Still, manufacturers did not recognize its uniqueness. Mr. Suh shopped the concept to Korean companies for six months but failed to sign a deal. Korean handset manufacturers were busy adding other functions to their phones, including digital cameras and MP3 players. They told Mr. Suh that slim phones were no longer a market trend. And they claimed the metal components might disturb the radio waves. Motorola first recognized the possibility of the metal keypad. In early 2000, the U.S. mobile phone developer saw its market share fall to 11 percent as rivals such as Nokia and Samsung Electronics aggressively expanded their global presence. The company had to cut back on its employees with corporate restructuring. Looking for a way to emerge as a major player, Motorola decided in 2003 to make a new mobile phone that was distinctively different from previous models. The U.S. company sent employees all over the world to collect information and ideas. It was during this quest that a Motorola employee visited Sam-young. In July 2004, the Razr was introduced to the world. The market response was explosive. Motorola’s market share, which was 11 percent in 2000, shot up to 20 percent in the first half of this year. Samyoung revenue also surged on Razr’s brisk sales. Samyoung’s revenue, which stood at 13.4 billion won ($13.9 million) in 2004, surged to 75 billion won in 2005. In plants in Korea and China, Samyoung manufactures about 7 million keypad units every month. “I was surprised at Motorola’s rationality and openness to recognize a product manufactured by a small company that had no previous suppliers,” Mr. Suh said. Samyoung’s goal is to grow into a global company that specializes in mobile handset hardware parts by strengthening its design department. In March, the Korean company introduced an acrylic keypad, which looks similar to a metal keypad but is lighter. by Kim Won-bae


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