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Samsung is 'a ship without a captain,' says co-CEO

Yoon Boo-Keun looks to the company's future and says the Bixby voice assistant will work differently on Samsung’s electronics than on its phones.

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Yoon Boo-Keun, the head of Samsung's electronics business, is worried about his company now that its leader, Jay Y. Lee, has been sentenced to five years in prison.

James Martin/CNET

Samsung is a ship without a captain, a co-CEO of the company says, and that has him concerned.

Yoon Boo-Keun, the head of Samsung's electronics business, is worried about his company now that its leader, Jay Y. Lee, has been sentenced to five years in prison, he told Süddeutsche Zeitung at the IFA electronics show in Berlin.

"Nobody would get on a ship without a captain because you know it's dangerous," he said, according to the German newspaper. "We are on such a ship."

Yoon was in Berlin for IFA, where Samsung introduced three new wearables, a washing machine, cordless vacuum and various other electronics. Samsung's now best known for its phones, but it has a huge business selling other electronics, including TVs and home appliances. Yoon has overseen that business since 2012.  

IFA came the week after a South Korean court said Lee would have to spend five years in prison for bribery and other charges. The 49-year-old has acted as de facto head of Samsung since his father, Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-Hee, suffered a heart attack in 2014. The younger Lee has been embroiled in the corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of now-former South Korean president Park Geun-hye. He's been detained since February, which has left Samsung without someone at the top.

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Lee's imprisonment has Yoon stressed, he told Süddeutsche Zeitung. He added that as head of the consumer electronics business, he takes a near-term view for products while it's Lee's responsibility as vice chairman to map the long-term strategy. But Yoon now has to think longer term, the newspaper reported.

Yoon also told Süddeutsche Zeitung that the Internet of Things hasn't taken off as quickly as hoped because there aren't clear and compelling consumer use cases, and privacy and security are also considerations. Still, Samsung plans for all of its products to be internet-connected by 2020.

Bixby everywhere

Samsung's newest focus for the Internet of Things is embedding its Bixby voice assistant into its various connected appliances and televisions. The "smart sidekick" debuted on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus earlier this year and will also be available on the Note 8 when it hits the market.

Bixby acts as a new interface to control your phone, but it will be different for Samsung's appliances and televisions, Yoon told Süddeutsche Zeitung. For Samsung's connected refrigerators, Bixby will be able to recommend recipes based on what you have in your kitchen, the newspaper said. For TVs, it would learn what shows you normally watch and automatically play them when you turn on the television.

"Integration is already in full swing," Yoon said, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung.

No OLED TVs

Yoon also told the newspaper that it has opted not to use OLED screens in its televisions because the technology has some long-term problems with color and burn-in. Samsung plans to keep researching the technology but will only use it in its bigger electronics when the problems are solved, he said, according to Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Samsung's display business is one of the world's biggest producers of OLED screens. It's also one of the world's biggest OLED customers, with phones such as the Galaxy S8 using the technology. Apple is expected to release an iPhone with an OLED screen later this month.

OLED displays are popular in phones because they allow for blacker blacks and can be bent to make features like the Galaxy S8's curved edges. Also, people typically replace their phones every couple of years, which means they don't have some of the issues you'd see with a television you keep for a decade. OLED is more expensive than other displays, though, especially in televisions.

Still, OLED has become popular among TV buyers. And LG produces high-end OLED TVs that it said can last longer than conventional TVs.

CNET's Shara Tibken is writing for Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich through the end of September as part of the Arthur F. Burns journalism fellowship program. Tune back to CNET for more reports from Germany.

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