Samsung has had a strange five years. By embracing Google’s Android operating system and building hardware that is equal to Apple’s iPhone, the Korean electronics giant deployed its signature fast-follower strategy and outflanked Apple in the smartphone wars. But this success has proved to be fleeting, as the company has struggled to differentiate its handsets amid pressure from competitors like Xiaomi—not to mentioned continued innovation in Cupertino.
Of course, Samsung is a lot more than smartphones—and, in an era full of new Internet-connected devices on our bodies and in our homes, that may matter more in the long run. While Apple fusses over the intricacies of luxury watch design and Google crows about buying a fancy thermostat company, Samsung has been cranking out next-generation wearables and building dozens of smart appliances: refrigerators that text you when the door has been left open, dishwashers that decide when to run a load based on spot energy prices, robot vacuum cleaners that you can control with your smartwatch, your Galaxy Note, or (gasp) your iPhone. “Imagine a world in which these appliances are connected to each other,” says David Eun, a Samsung executive vice president. “What you’d have is one of the largest platforms for distributing content and services and apps—even ads.”
Eun, a former Googler who now serves as the head of Samsung’s Global Innovation Center, orchestrated Samsung’s acquisition of SmartThings last August for a reported $200 million. The Silicon Valley startup offers a kit that makes it easy for consumers control Schlage door locks, GE lightbulbs, Sonos sound systems, and, as a result of the acquisition, all of Samsung’s smart appliances. The pairing makes Samsung by far the biggest player in the burgeoning Internet of Things ecosystem. “The vision,” says SmartThings founder Alex Hawkinson, “is that it’s supereasy for an everyday person to make their home a smart home.”
Eun and Hawkinson see SmartThings as Android for the home—an open platform that will be used by Samsung, as well as most major appliance companies. The main difference: Unlike Android, Samsung will not be dependent on a competitor for its software. “We believe that all boats will rise with the Internet of Things tide,” Eun says. “And we’ve got a lot of boats in the water.”
- Open platform: SmartThings connects Samsung devices, but also to Schlage locks, GE lightbulbs, Sonos, etc.
- Universal control: Users can manage Samsung’s robot vacuum with a smartwatch, Galaxy, or (gasp) iPhone.
- Contextual smarts: A refrigerator that texts when the door’s open; a washer cycles when it’s cheapest to do so.
Illustration: Colin Hayes
Watch Samsung’s vision of the Internet of Things, as it was presented at CES in January:
[Photo: courtesy of Samsung]