Did Samsung Just One-Up Apple on Its Cool Factor?

Let’s cut right to the chase: At this week’s Samsung Developer Conference, the event’s namesake announced a bunch of really cool new stuff.

And we’ll get to it — I promise.

But before we do, I want to point out what really resonated with me — perhaps even more than all of the neat new products and features: the emerging topics and trends.

These are things that many of we marketers, in our day-to-day work and responsibilities, don’t give much thought to. Things like, say, a virtual-assistant-equipped refrigerator, or the latest and greatest software development kits (SDK). 

But it’s time that we do. Think about some of the pieces of technology or up-and-coming topics that, maybe five years ago, we thought had nothing to do with us. Those of us who ignored them quickly fell behind the curve. And so, over the next few weeks, I’ll be dissecting the following topics and breaking down why they’re important for marketers to keep an eye on.”

So let’s stay ahead of it. In addition to the below summary of everything that was announced at the Samsung Developer Conference, over the next few weeks, I’ll be dissecting the related topics — breaking down why they’re important for marketers to keep an eye on.

Here Are the Samsung Announcements You Missed

1) Bixby

To put Bixby in context, some describe it as Samsung’s version of Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant. It is, in fewer words, Samsung’s own virtual assistant, and it’s becoming increasingly built into a range of the brand’s products to create what it calls an “intelligent ecosystem.”

Bixby isn’t exactly new — but Bixby 2.0, which took center stage at the opening keynote and subsequent breakout sessions, is. One of the biggest differentiators for 2.0, said Vice President and Service Intelligence Team Leader Brad Park, is that it’s open, which essentially means that its code is available to developers to use, modify, and redistribute by way of something original that they use it to build. That availability will begin with a private beta program and become available to the general public in 2018.

The process, he said, was to “make everything voice-first … and then, see what the user wants.” That’s important — remember, this event is first and foremost designed for developers. Within the context of that remark from Park, that’s why w the open source nature of the Bixby SDK is so important. By making it open, developers will be able to personalize the technology in a way that helps determine how users actually want to, well, use it.

And as marketers, that’s where we potentially play a vital role. It’s our job, in large part, to understand and reach the end user — and now, we have a greater opportunity than ever to partner with developers to reach these users in an innovative way.

The other main emphasis, however, was on Bixby’s availability across a number of devices — like Samsung Smart TVs and the Family Hub refrigerator — which is where the ecosystem comes into play. That’s where another key differentiator of Bixby 2.0 — the aforementioned “voice search” approach, which gives it better natural language capabilities that can help it distinguish between users.

That was one of the biggest early issues that users took with Alexa, for example, illustrating the growing influence of a demand for personalization. But it goes beyond voice recognition — Bixby uses machine learning, too, to anticipate what individual end users will ask it to do. 

2) The Internet of Things

First, a brief vocabulary lesson. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the technology that uses internet connectivity to allow in-home devices and appliances — like your lights, security system, or refrigerator — to be controlled remotely by devices like our phones. In other words, it’s the thing that allows you to turn your lights on or off from your phone when you’re out of town.

Okay, back to that “intelligent ecosystem” and where Bixby plays a role within it. Previously, Samsung had a handful of fragmented IoT platforms: SmartThings (a suite of products that would help “smartify” the otherwise disconnected or “dumb” things in your home), Samsung Connect (the automation system that allowed users to actually execute the smart technology), and ARTIK (the platform that connects and adds security to all of the pieces of a user’s IoT experience). 

But during the opening keynote, Samsung announced the cohesive SmartThings Cloud, which brings all of the above under a single hub that allows all of these previously fragmented IoT pieces under one, central “touchpoint.” 

Here, again, is where the ability for Bixby to be broadly applied and personalized becomes crucial. Within the announcements pertaining to these new IoT initiatives came the unveiling of Project Ambience: a noticeably small dongle that can be plugged into home objects and devices — like an everyday speaker, for example — and turn them into “smart,” connected devices that are equipped with the Bixby experience.

So, why does that matter to you? Think about it: as the technology to turn anything into our homes into something that’s “smart” and connected, not only will it become increasingly easier for users to request and receive information, but the demand for quick solutions will also continue to grow. We’ll get into the specifics of how marketers can leverage these developments in future posts, but for now, it’s certainly an area to watch.

3) An AR Partnership With Google

If you read the previous section and thought, “Sounds like Samsung might be trying to play on Google’s playing field,” you’re not alone. I had the same thought — and then came the announcement of a partnership.

Surprisingly, there weren’t any explicit product announcements about virtual reality, which came as a personal surprise given the heavy presence of the Samsung Gear at last week’s Oculus Connect event. But to continue its progress within VR, Samsung implied, it has to also focus on building an augmented reality (AR) presence.

And that makes sense. Throughout last week’s Oculus Connect keynote, for example, numerous speakers spoke to the importance of making VR accessible, but failed to identify the tangible and incremental steps they would take to make it so. AR, which will be available on a significant number of recent phone models from a variety of manufacturers, is something of a gateway to VR, particularly when it comes to an untethered (not requiring connection to a larger piece of hardware) experience.

Now, Samsung has partnered with Google for yet another open source initiative. Developers will have access to Google’s ARCore SDK to create AR experiences that will be available on such Samsung devices as the Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+, and Galaxy Note8.

Pardon the pun, but this move seems, well, smart. It could be interpreted as a response to Apple’s ARKIT, which provides developers with open source code to create AR experiences for Apple devices — namely, the iPhone and iPad.

Here’s another opportunity for marketers to leverage this information availability to create immersive experiences for their audiences. Not ready to build a full-blown VR experience? Start with AR. It will likely be available to a larger pool of users (after all, they can access it right from their mobile devices), and allows them to integrate your product or service into their respective environments, just by downloading an app.

I mean … I’m excited. As both a marketer and a journalist, these developments are huge. And if you take advantage of them now, I might even consider you a trailblazer — and your peers likely will, too.

But there’s still about half a day left of the Samsung Developer Conference, so feel free to follow along with all of the cool stuff I’m learning about here on Twitter, or let me know if you have a question about it.

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