New markets typically flourish when consumers have choices. Choice allows consumers to choose the specific brands and products that serve them best. This dynamic is a proven, venerable rule that has played a substantial role in the smart home category's growth over the past several years.
Most consumers’ smart homes employ smart devices (e.g., lights, doorbells, televisions, cameras, etc.) enabled by either Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and (less frequently) Apple HomeKit. While consumers might have a unique smart device that only works with a particular “smart” assistant, in general, the most successful solutions are cross-smart platform compatible and don’t lock the consumer into a proprietary ecosystem. Again, choice tends to win with consumers.
With this as a backdrop, I recently had an engaging discussion with Jaeyeon Jung, Samsung’s Vice President and Head of SmartThings. The conversation shed light on where the company is headed in the smart home space and confirmed, in my mind, that Samsung believes this sector is vital to its success. Jung is an executive with a strong technology background, with stints at both Intel and Microsoft in the security and privacy areas before joining Samsung in 2016. With this experience, I believe Jung is ideally suited to address the smart home's challenges and opportunities.
Samsung’s IoT strategy is rooted in its SmartThings platform
The fundamentals of Samsung’s smart home strategy are ensconced in its SmartThings platform, which the South Korean technology giant acquired in 2014. Facilitated via Bixby, the company’s voice assistant, SmartThings may soon leverage many of the new augmented reality functions that have showed up on Samsung smartphones over the past 4 or 5 years.
According to Jung, the big takeaway is that Samsung is executing its decision made four years ago to bring together its disparate IoT services —- Samsung Connect, SmartThings and ARTIK (the company’s IoT platform in the smart factories and intelligent building space), into one integrated, amalgamated platform dubbed SmartThings Cloud.
The implications of this decision are easy to understand. From Jung’s viewpoint, this path allows Samsung to embrace its futuristic ambition of a completely integrated smart home where things just work. There is no need to interact with multiple apps to achieve the desired results. Samsung believes that only this approach can deliver an immersive, connected consumer experience that is flexible and all-inclusive.
There are benefits for developers who want to participate in Samsung’s vision of the smart home. The SmartThings Cloud provides developers with a single resources API across all SmartThings-compatible products (e.g., locks, doorbells, lighting, cameras, speakers, etc.) and smart assistants from Amazon and Google. The SmartThings Cloud also guarantees secure interoperability, a critical requirement for businesses developing commercial and industry IoT solutions.
It’s all about the ecosystem
According to Jung, Samsung must continue innovating to deliver smarter, connected experiences for its customers. An open IoT platform, accentuated by an intelligent and broad ecosystem that taps into future AR capabilities, is ultimately the baseline ingredient in Samsung’s smart home plan. In this sense, Samsung differentiates itself from Apple’s “walled garden” approach. Samsung recognizes when it comes to the smart home ecosystem, a “mix and match” approach is the only way to provide the maximum amount of device support flexibility. As such, the company’s portfolio offers low-cost hub and sensors that support hundreds of compatible connected devices across the smart home spectrum.
This point does not mean that Bixby is taking a backseat position in Samsung’s smart home strategy. Bixby’s enhanced natural language abilities, announced a few years ago, permits “deep linking” capabilities, which Samsung claims enhances user experience, retention, engagement and usage. Ultimately, Samsung believes that users benefit from a more predictive, personalized experience, as opposed to the more reactive approach taken by most smart home applications today.
SmartThings Find expands Samsung’s smart device functionality
A great example of Samsung’s cloud-enabled smart home strategy is SmartThings Find, which the company announced last October. Available worldwide, the service leverages Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and ultra-wideband (UWB) technology to help consumers locate their lost Galaxy devices, including smartphones, tablets, smartwatches and earbuds. SmartThings Find can also guide users back to their devices with the AR features in Samsung’s latest smartphones.
Not only does the SmartThings Find service help you locate your missing device, but it can also help when the device is offline. When enabled via an opt-in setting, the device that has been offline for 30 minutes transmits a BLE signal that can be captured by other devices to identify the missing device’s location, which is stored in Samsung’s cloud. Most importantly, Samsung encrypts and securely protects this data to ensure that the device’s location is not divulged to anyone except the owner.
Some closing thoughts
While Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant tend to attract most of the headlines in the smart home space, Samsung’s SmartThings approach has a lot going for it. First of all, as traditional household appliances (particularly refrigerators, dishwashers, ovens, washers/dryers, etc.) become more “smart home” friendly, Samsung’s legacy market position with appliances is a significant tailwind for the company.
Secondly, the SmartThings platform is deliberately anti-proprietary, which most consumers strongly value. Jung emphasized multiple times during our conversation that Samsung desires to streamline the SmartThings validation of third-party (non-Samsung) devices as much as possible. Manufacturers have precious and finite development resources, and a minimally bureaucratic onboarding process is critical to building an expansive device ecosystem.
Finally, privacy is becoming a much more significant concern for today’s consumers who have smart home aspirations. These concerns are scaling as the quantities of smart home devices increase in the average home, top the point where I believe that customers are purchasing brands based on privacy considerations. Samsung has one of the stronger privacy postures in the smart home space and that should be applauded. However, the company, who is dependent on Android for its smartphones, needs to differentiate from Google. Many consumers have a less-than-fond perception of Google in the privacy realm. Here, Samsung has an opportunity to distinguish itself with even stronger privacy policies, especially as consumers begin to add appliances into their smart home plans.
As I mentioned at the top, consumers are diving into the smart home waters at a feverish pace. Customers are drawn to the companies that don’t lock them into a single ecosystem, have a broad number of devices, and provide robust and comprehensive privacy policies. In this regard, Samsung has quietly curated all the necessary strategic components for success.