Our view of the Samsung Developer Conference

There are a select few names that immediately come to mind when you talk about mobile devices. One of those names is Samsung. The Samsung Galaxy line has been dominating the Android space for several years. After years of electronic devices getting smaller, Samsung can be rightly credited with the emergence of the phablet (phone + tablet). The response by consumers was so overwhelming that it drove Apple to release not one, but two larger screen devices. However anyone who has taken a casual stroll through their local electronics super store will be keenly aware that Samsung is about far more than just big screen phones.

The Samsung Developer Conference 2014 happened 11 – 13 November, 2014 in San Francisco. The event’s opening keynote was delivered by Samsung CEO, Dr. Oh-Hyun Kwon with “Connected Living Connecting Developers” as the overarching theme. Within this theme Samsung focused on two tracks with four focus areas. The two tracks were ‘open platform’ for developers and ‘partnership’ for businesses. The four focus areas were digital health, smart home, wearable, and virtual reality. The various speakers followed a common theme to lay out a consistent message throughout the event to properly position each of the four focus areas within the two tracks and overall theme. This would have been an incredible success of an event, if it had all been entirely true.

Make no mistake about it, Samsung has some great technologies and product offerings. The Gear smartwatch line is a beautiful example of wearable, useful tech that is also appealing to the eye. The latest model is the Gear S. They noted in the keynote that the ‘S’ means ‘standalone’. This would lead the average consumer to think you could purchase a Gear S and use the device effectively apart from any other electronic device. What they didn’t mention is the only way to activate the ‘standalone’ watch is via any other Samsung Galaxy device. Once activated the $329 device will work as a watch, but won’t sync or pair with any other device, unless it happens to be a Samsung Galaxy device. While technically it is a standalone device after activation, it’s not what most people have in mind for a smartwatch.

The Simband is a truly remarkable piece of technology. The number of sensors in the developer-focused device are intended to give an idea of what can be done. The device is a standard Gear S with a modified band to allow for the sensor package to be installed. Ideally Samsung wants companies and developers to get innovative and create their own sensor and software package or device and utilize SAMI, Samsung’s backend health data service. While the Simband is clearly Gear focused, SAMI is truly a wide open concept and provides great opportunities in the health, medical and fitness wearable technology industry. Anyone can build any device on any platform and utilize SAMI as their primary data and backend service. Additionally Samsung states that your data is yours to share with whoever you want, or not if you choose to keep it private.

The connected home space is growing rapidly. Samsung is poised to be on the cutting edge with their planned acquisition of SmartThings. The smart home has long been a vision for the future, but with companies like SmartThings, that future is becoming a reality. It’s still not quite up to the George Jetson standard but will be there faster than you might expect. The connected home concept offers people the convenience of monitoring whatever the imagination of developers and ingenuity of engineers can create.

Finally Samsung introduced their innovators edition of virtual reality (VR) headwear. This device will allow developers to create fantasy worlds as fantastic and whimsical as one can dream – or very lifelike simulations to use in training or maintenance. The system however relies on one critical piece of hardware, a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Without this specific phone, the VR goggles are useless. This is another example of Samsung’s ‘open’ approach to development and innovation.

To be fair, Samsung is a huge company and holds a significant percentage of market share in the mobile space. They aren’t doing anything Apple isn’t doing as well, with the exception of referring to their largely closed eco-system as open. Despite that, their technology is impressive and their portfolio is large. They’ve positioned themselves well for continued growth in the consumer electronics space.

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