What comes after the smartphone?
In Samsung’s opinion, it’s the “Internet of Things,” that wonky phrase being thrown around the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. A lot of the big tech companies here bet that one day all the objects in our life will be able to connect to the internet and adapt to our needs automatically.
Driverless cars. Health and fitness trackers. Smart lights. Doors that unlock automatically when you approach them. And so on.
It sounds like something out of “The Jetsons,” but that’s the vision of the future Samsung put forth during its opening CES keynote Monday night.
Samsung CEO BK Yoon also made a big promise: Within five years, every electronic device Samsung makes — everything from ovens to vacuum cleaners — will be able to connect to the internet.
But that lofty promise was missing something. After an hour-long keynote, Samsung still failed to explain why we need everything around us connected. This was a big moment for Samsung, a chance for it to prove that it had an answer for what the next big thing will be now that its wildly profitable smartphone business has hit a wall.
And Samsung blew it. After the keynote, I felt like I had just left an intensely boring college lecture, not an exciting look at how we’ll be using technology in the future. (The fact that Samsung brought the famous economist Jeremy Rifkin on stage for a dull lecture about how connecting everything to the internet will reinvigorate the global economy didn’t help.)
Then Samsung described a world where your smartphone alarm wakes you up in the morning, which triggers your music player, which then tells your TV to switch to the news and display the day’s top headlines. A world where you use a smartwatch to call your BMW to you from your parking spot. A world where your fitness tracker can talk to your thermostat. A world where sensors can detect certain odours in your home. (Seriously.)
But why? All that stuff doesn’t sound useful. It sounds like a lot of noise. Nothing I saw on stage seemed revolutionary or jaw-dropping.
Samsung has the engineering expertise to pull off all the tech wonders, but not the savviness to convince us it’s the next big thing.
I’m not ready to write it completely off just yet. It’s entirely possible Samsung is on to something big, but just failed to explain it well.
After the keynote, I spoke to SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson. SmartThings is a company Samsung bought last fall for about $US200 million. It makes an open IoT platform that anyone can build into. Moving forward, SmartThings is going to be a much bigger part of Samsung’s overall IoT strategy.
Hawkinson told me things are still in the early stages. The plan is to show people that connecting everyday objects in their homes have a lot of benefits like energy savings and security. Samsung also has a massive marketing budget, so expect to see advertising soon surrounding that, sort of like Google has done with its IoT platform, Nest.
In the meantime, Samsung has a rough few months ahead of it.
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