Forbes has a great article out about how Samsung is gearing up to push forward it's Smart Home Automation offerings via its new SmartThings Cloud Service. SmartThings is the IOT hardware/Software/Hub company that Samsung recently bought and have been quietly designing into their hardware.
SmartThings is a great system but it's in danger of being left behind as Amazon's Alexa, Google's Home and Apples Homepod / Homekit all march forward to the tune of voice control.
Samsung Gets Serious About Smart Home Battle, Announces Enhanced Voice, IoT Cloud And New Hardware
Samsung's recent developer conference drew over 5,000 attendees from around the world. While Samsung is a leading smartphone manufacturer, the theme of the development conference focused on what Samsung called “Connected Thinking”. DJ Koh, the President of Mobile Communications Business for Samsung Electronics, told the audience that science and technology were coming together for disruptive change. While the smartphone has changed the world, Koh discussed moving beyond the smartphone to a world of “Connected Thinking” that will deliver new intelligence to drive innovation. To enable this new connected thinking world, Samsung announced several product advancements.
Samsung is combining its existing IoT services—SmartThings, Samsung Connect, and ARTIK—into one united IoT platform called the SmartThings Cloud. The goal is to streamline the process of connecting with any SmartThings-compatible device by offering one cloud API. All SmartThings-compatible products will also meet a nine-point security check that will ease some of the security challenges. The SmartThings Cloud provides developers access to one cloud API that can be used across all SmartThings-compatible products to build connected solutions. It also provides secure interoperability and services for business developing commercial and industrial IoT solutions.
The company released an improved version of its voice and vision interface called Bixby. 2.0. The latest release brought voice functionality to the company’s devices such as Smart TVs and refrigerators. It can recognize multiple users, which is essential in a service that will be used in a home. While the company didn't explicitly say it integrated Bixby 1.0 with Viv functions, it appears that some integration has happened. The company said it's releasing a private beta of SDK for developers to create new voice and vision enabled experiences. Hopefully, Samsung will move this to general availability of its SDK soon.
Project Ambience. Samsung surprised the developer audience with a new offering called Project Ambience. It's a chip or dongle that can be added to devices within the home to make them smarter with voice and potentially application control.
Advanced augmented reality capabilities. Through a partnership with Google, developers will be able to use the ARCore SDK to bring AR to millions of Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy Note customers. According to the companies, the partnership offers new business opportunities for developers and a platform for creating immersive new experiences for consumers.
What does it mean for the marketplace?
While there were many announcements at the event, two were of particular note - The SmartThings Cloud and Project Ambience. Both have the opportunity to be game changers for Samsung and the general consumer IoT market if the company can execute correctly.
According to Samsung, a connected thinking system is obviously connected but must also be personalized and open. Given the number of connected home devices that Samsung owns, it makes sense that the company would pull the connection, management, and security of these devices together under one umbrella. All of these divisions are large and accustomed to running independently. It's a huge strategic commitment for a company as large as Samsung to unify its clouds. It’s an even more significant step from the branding standpoint to call it the SmartThings Cloud instead of the Samsung SmartThings Cloud. The shift in branding signifies that Samsung understands it’s important to create an inclusive environment where other vendors can participate in the IoT cloud Samsung has built.
One critical barrier to smart home adoption is difficulty connecting, using and securing the various connected objects. Every object has an app or a service. The SmartThings Cloud is the company’s first attempt to improve the experience across the Samsung. With a more open cloud API, the company can also make the cloud stickier for developers and Samsung by including non-Samsung devices.
Another challenge with today's existing smart home strategies is that they require you to purchase and install new hardware to reap the benefits of a connected home. Most consumers aren't interested in buying new thermostats, speakers and other household items that have a long usable life. Samsung’s Project Ambience aims to provide a way for consumers to keep what they own, but make those devices smarter by attaching a small dongle that adds Samsung's Bixby voice assistant. Injong Rhee, head of Research & Development, Software & Services of Samsung's Mobile Communications business, highlighted how this could work with a compelling Bixby plus Project Ambience demo during the conference keynote. Project Ambience combined with the enhanced version of Bixby has the opportunity to give Samsung a stronger position in the smart home battle with Amazon, Apple and Google.
What does Samsung need to do to be successful?
Many vendors are making a push toward openness, but the proof of success will be measured in how many applications and services that are designed to work with the Samsung cloud. Samsung's keynotes primarily focused on the technology innovations that the company provides developers. With some many companies vying for a developer's time Samsung needs to do a better job of explaining why developers should focus on a Samsung ecosystem? Will the effort generate more money, greater engagement or long-term customer loyalty? These are important questions to answer. Other developer conferences have spent considerable parts of the day one keynote discussing how working with their ecosystems will generate revenue and what type of solutions the company provides to assist application developers with a go-to-market strategy.
The second thing Samsung must also provide highly accurate conversational interfaces for the smart home. A key message for developers was that Samsung’s trying to make its features frictionless to access. While other digital assistants have a significant lead on Samsung, the company’s efforts can still be successful if Bixby provides an easy way for consumers to manage their smart homes and provides easier access to functionality within Samsung products. Its original version of Bixby had less than stellar performance, but onstage Rhee’s demo highlighted how much progress Bixby has made in a short time. Having said this, it's extremely challenging to build an easy-to-use and accurate conversational interface. Machine learning is still an imperfect science, and it takes enormous volumes of usage data to create models that can interpret a wide range of consumer commands. Fortunately, Samsung doesn't have to index all the world’s information to deliver a better customer experience.
The connected home market is a tough marketplace, but the battle for the smart home is just beginning. While challenges remain, Samsung still has an opportunity to win significant share in the space. One imminent threat is Apple’s new HomePod smart speaker that is slated to come out in a few months. Samsung should work overtime to help developers deliver multi-vendor smart home and IoT solutions to minimize this upcoming threat.