Samsung comes out of the ‘Israel closet’

Israeli R&D centers — Samsung’s only such centers outside of South Korea — responsible for newest smartphone’s camera technology

The scene at the HTIA conference Tuesday (Photo credit: Courtesy)
The scene at the HTIA conference Tuesday (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Yet another major multinational technology company has “come out” about its Israel connection. Korean tech giant Samsung, it turns out, has two major R&D facilities in Israel, and the local engineering staff was largely responsible for a number of Samsung technologies – including a sensor used in the upcoming Galaxy S3 smart camera and cellphone.

The news about the development of the sensor at Samsung’s Israel R&D labs was presented Tuesday at the annual conference of Israel’s Hi-Tech Industry Association in Jerusalem by Dr. Nam-Sung (Stephen) Woo, president of Samsung’s Device Solution’s System LSI Business. And it’s not just the sensor, said Dr. Yiwan Wong of Samsung’s System LSI Business. “All of the camera’s processing technology, the wiping and other special effects, were done in Israel.”

The camera (there are no legal issues surrounding the camera, unlike with Samsung’s newest Galaxy tablet and cellphones) is unique in the fact that it lacks buttons, with all actions commanded by a touchscreen on the back of the device. The camera is more than just a device to take pictures – it’s wifi Internet-capable and can post photos to online galleries with a touch. And, it’s got the Israeli-developed 16.3 mp BSI CMOS sensor, which is also integrated into Samsung Galaxy cellphones.

Samsung’s two Israel R&D centers develop products for telecommunications products, and does semiconductor work as well; both centers contributed to the Samsung cameras, said Woo. And Samsung’s Israeli-developed technology shows up in products that Samsung manufactures jointly with other companies; a new Chinese cellphone released last week will include the Samsung sensor. According to officials in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, Israeli technology is used in products from other Korean giants, such as LG and Hyundai, as well.

Samsung, it turns out, has been operating in Israel for about five years, said Woo, after it acquired Ramat Gan-based Transchip Israel, which worked in the image sensor industry. At the time Transchip Israel was bought out in 2007, it was a very significant event for Samsung; it was the company’s first foreign acquisition in a decade. As of now, the two Israeli facilities (the second one is in Herzliya), employing upwards of 50 engineers between the two of them, are the only Samsung R&D centers outside of South Korea.

While the presence of Samsung in Israel was certainly no secret, this was the first time a high-profile Samsung corporate official made a public appearance at a major Israeli tech show, signaling a change in the company’s previous reticence about its facilities here. For various reasons, companies in Asia shy away from such announcements. In a recent interview, Professor Kenneth Grossberg of Waseda University in Tokyo told the Times of Israel that companies in Japan, as well as other places in Asia, are often reticent about their Israel connection, fearing to offend customers in Arab and other countries. It’s only when they feel very confident that things are stable and that they will not lose business because of the revelations that they will discuss their Israel connection openly, he said.

Perhaps, said Wong, Samsung feels an affinity to Israeli because he considers the company a “startup,” at least in spirit. “People think of Samsung as this big company, but we really aren’t,” he said. “Our new smart camera is a great example of that. You just don’t see that kind of innovation these days.”

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