Samsung: all over the news, again

Gotta hand it to their PR team.

Another day and another set of positive Samsung stories, wherever you look.

A special mention goes to the consultants IDC. Last week when Samsung released a strong set of first quarter results – another quarterly record profit – IDC reported that Samsung shipped more smartphones than the next four vendors combined. Even better for Samsung was confirmation that of the top 5 vendors globally, only Apple suffered a drop in market share; LG, Huawei and ZTE made small gains while Samsung’s market share soared.

Although Apple grew sales volume by around 6 percent to 37m phones, its market share fell sharply from 23 per cent to 17 per cent. By contrast, Samsung’s mobile sales skyrocketed by 60 per cent to 70.7m for a 32.7 per cent market share, up from 28.8 per cent ayear ago.

There was a time, not so long ago, when mobile phones were used just to make calls and send texts? It seems a long time ago.

In the UK, 31.7m (out of a total of UK mobile phone audience of 49.5m) are smartphones. UK smartphone penetration stands at 64 per cent and rising. In December, 82 per cent of all phones acquired were smartphones. There is a common misconception that the digital drive is being driven by 20 and 30 somethings, with nothing better to spend their money on than the latest gadget.

Wrong.  In December 2012, 71 per cent of new devices acquired by Brits aged 55 plus were smartphones, according to the consultant’s comScore. For aficionados of the Samsung v Apple battle, interest has just ramped up with the Samsung flagship handset, the Galaxy S4, which hit the shops over the weekend. Except, those cunning PR sorts at Samsung were busy dampening expectations – or trying to create a false sense of excitement depending on your point of view - by warning of possible S4 shortages.

Demand for the S4 will be so fierce, according to vested interests by the names of Carphonewarehouse and Phones4U that they may not be able to keep up with demand. The cool and sensible response to the media frenzy resulting from the release of the S4 is to rise above it; better still, ignore it.

Better to stick to one’s existing, trusty and reliable handset. On the other hand: the writer’s existing handset, a Samsung S3, is already fully 12 months old. It has perhaps, just perhaps, been slowing down just a tad.

It is after all, an essential tool for work these days. There is also not the slightest danger of anyone – even close friends or family – accusing the writer of being cool, about anything. It is even a rare luxury to answer to the charge of being sensible. After an appropriate period – there is no point hurrying or appearing to be a tech anorak so we are talking a few days at least – the S3 can be replaced by a S4. Vague efforts will be made, with little success, to exclude from regular vocabulary words such as flagship, thinner, lighter, faster processor, best Android ever, eye recognition and smart screen.

Photograph: Getty Images

Douglas Blakey is the editor of Retail Banker International

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder