NEW YORK — Will the connected smart home represent the next great battlefield between Samsung and Apple?
Samsung Electronics President and CEO BK Yoon wouldn't come right out and say so during a conversation I had with him at a recent showcase for "smart" new Samsung appliances in Manhattan's trendy Meatpacking district. But the field represents a "growth engine" for Samsung.
"It is a new market and will provide a huge opportunity for companies," Yoon said. "The process in which each company tries to figure out home automation technology will be different. The goal is still the same. There is a lot of anticipation, interest, investment and (mergers and acquisitions) in this field."
Apple recently announced HomeKit as a framework for connecting disparate devices in the home, from garage door openers to thermostats. But it doesn't play in the home appliance field where Samsung already has a major presence.
At the New York showcase, for example, Samsung promoted its $5,999, Chef Collection 4-Door refrigerator, with such features as a sparkling water dispenser and the ability to set different temperatures in different food zones to keep all your foods fresh.
Samsung also trumpeted its Chef Collection Dishwasher with a sweeping wall of water to better clean dishes, Samsung claims, than dishwashers that employ more typical circular water jets.
Globally, home appliances represents a $280 billion to $300 billion business, Yoon says, but up to now, innovation in the field has been slow. Most home appliances are holdovers from an analog era, and Yoon says the huge investments required for innovation have been a barrier to entering the business.
"The appliances must perform their basic functions very well. But innovation comes in things that have not been solved before."
Take refrigerators, for example. Yoon says most industry efforts have focused on capacity — that is, providing the most storage possible without having the fridge itself take up extra room. But Yoon says consumers want refrigerators that maintain freshness longer, something Samsung claims the aforementioned Chef Collection fridge is capable of.
Samsung's research suggests that consumers find appliance shopping confusing and uncomfortable. Thirty-six percent are overwhelmed by too many choices, and 77 percent say the current in-store experience doesn't provide enough product information.
To address this concern, Samsung unveiled a concept it calls CenterStage, a life-size in-store touch-screen digital display that retailers can use to impart information through graphics and videos and that consumers can use to compare models, finishes, pricing and color options. Through a "scene selector" feature, potential buyers can envision what appliances will look like in their own kitchens or laundry rooms, choosing décor from say modern to Mediterranean. Information can be saved to your smartphone.
CenterStage exploits Samsung's UHD (ultra high-definition) display technology with four times the resolution of HDTV displays. Samsung, of course, has been pushing curved UHD TVs for the home, and Yoon says the "reception for the TVs has been great" so far, with 60% to 70% of UHD TV buyers choosing the curve option. Yoon also says he's pleased with UHD sales generally, and expects the market for such premium sets to continue to grow.
But on this day, he wanted to concentrate on the smart home and appliances. "We've been a leader in the TV business and No. 1 in the area of the smartphone. That greatly helps us as we're marching on this endeavor to the smart home or connected home."
Smart devices of the future will anticipate our thoughts, Yoon says. "When, for instance, I come back to the house after being away for awhile, the technology will understand the time of day and where I am within the house, and it will remember some of my behavioral patterns in order to change the lighting (brightness and color) automatically, and optimize the rooms settings to the condition that I would like."
Yoon believes we're still only in the first inning in bringing such a vision to fruition, something he says may take three to five years. "It will take time for the technology to recognize the consumer's living patterns. The sensor technologies that we have right now are unable to do that quite yet." A lot of data must be gathered, he adds, and the technology needs to be more accurate.
Is this something consumers are clamoring for? "We do a lot of research, particularly in the consumer lifestyle in each of the regions (we operate in). We try to determine where the consumers' pain points are and provide solutions to those pain points. In terms of the future of the smart home…one by one we're trying to come up with the solutions."
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