In 2020, every single product that Samsung sells will be connected to the Internet of Things. But what is the Internet of Things? For one, it's a dry buzzword that basically every company at the Consumer Electronics Show this week can't stop talking about (it's been that way, to a somewhat lesser extent, for a couple years now). But this year, Samsung is really trying to make it a big deal. On stage during a keynote presentation this evening, Samsung CEO BK Yoon finally began to define what role Samsung sees the Internet of Things taking.
Samsung wants the Internet of Things to be totally open
In essence, Samsung's idea is that just about every device you have — and even products like chairs, that you don't normally expect to see technology in — will be connected and talking to each other. On a basic level, Samsung imagines that you'll be able to take off your headphones when you arrive home and have the music they were playing automatically start up through your speaker system. But Samsung also sees this connectivity extending outside of the home. When you go up to a digital kiosk, such as a map at a large mall, Samsung imagines that your phone might automatically connect to it and change the graphic's language to whatever you primarily speak.
There are, obviously, an incredible number of possibilities when any device can talk to any other device. And that's the vision that Samsung is selling here — a much, much smarter future. But as much as it's beautiful to imagine a totally connected home and life and world, it's going to require a lot of work by developers to get these things talking to each other in a sensible way.
Fortunately, Samsung has already decided that all of its Internet of Things devices will be open. That means they won't be locked within a Samsung ecosystem — something that might sound great from a business perspective, but would ultimately doom the products because consumers would be required to buy all Samsung in order to receive the benefits. Instead, Samsung's IoT products — and there are going to be a lot of them — will all be able to talk to any other Internet of Things device that wants to connect. That's a big commitment from a company that makes everything from washers to smartphones to sensors.
SmartThings is how Samsung will let many IoT devices talk
"Without this kind of openness, there won't be an Internet of Things because the things will not fit together," Yoon said.
Of course, there are still some huge hurdles that Samsung doesn't entirely address. Namely, just because a product is able to connect to other products doesn't mean that it can coherently talk to another product. Eventually, someone is going to have to create a common way for all of these devices to talk, and that's going to be difficult, given how many varied things that manufacturers are going to want to do.
Samsung does have an answer, but it feels like a temporary one. That answer is SmartThings, a company that it picked up back in August. SmartThings makes a smart home hub that basically works as a translator: it's compatible with a number of different smart home standards and is able to make them work together. It's a really nice solution for the moment, but it's ultimately inelegant — and Samsung hasn't said how it sees that problem being worked out. For now, it's starting to make use of SmartThings' key position in the middle of the smart home by offering services around it, like video monitoring.
The entirety of Samsung's keynote this evening — including a brief interlude from an economist — was dedicated to showing how committed it is to the Internet of Things. We don't really know the specifics, but coming away from it, we do know that Samsung has the same grand vision that consumers do: a world where everything is smart and connected. Samsung is going big here. Now, Samsung and the rest of the tech industry have to start figuring out the details so that it can really happen.