As an elite leader in the consumer electronics space, it's easy to hold Samsung to a different set of standards. They have historically been able to keep up with and occasionally surpass the likes of Google, Apple, and a litany of TV manufacturers in certain aspects, but that doesn't mean they aren't without flaws.
And after getting a sneak peek of everything they are bringing to Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, they have once again exposed one of their most significant flaws, a forced ecosystem.
During media days at CES 2018, they put on their highly-anticipated press conference for media only, giving a very up-tempo and visually pleasing keynote on everything they are bringing. Last year, they had a focus on improving their tech with no direction other than "it is bigger, better, faster" especially when looking at their QLED announcement.
In contrast, this year's gameplan is all about interconnectivity, underscored by 5G. They highlighted that your fridge could alert you that your favorite show is coming on, allowing you to switch channels from your phone in a different room with ease. They showed how you could voice control your washer to start just by prompting Bixby on your TV. They even alluded to ordering a pizza if your fridge noticed you were low on food to cook with. It is the fantasy world of automation that we have all knew was coming.
The greatest problem being it doesn't appear to play nice with things out of the ecosystem. Although nothing has been confirmed, it really wouldn't surprise me to find that any missing link in the chain would leave out of luck for Samsung's premiere features, e.g., Apple's mantra for the past few decades.
Samsung also highlighted a business solution whiteboard that, again, seems to function exclusively with their line of laptops, smartphones, and wearables. Curiously, they didn't talk about the Galaxy S9, despite the litany of rumors out right now.
So where does this all shake out at? The answer is 5G. To use their metaphor, 2G put phones in our pocket, 3G/4G put the internet in our pocket, 5G will put the world in our pocket. Samsung hopes to stay ahead of 5G by making 99% of their products IoT ready by 2020, and have claimed that they hit 90% this year already. They also have plans to roll out a SmartThings App that will contain their IoT selection of Samsung Connect, Samsung Smart Home, SmartThings, and 40 other smart apps into one central channel.
And that is seriously great news from the company and a precise execution of their commitment to 5G. The SmartThings platform is in nearly 1 million homes across the nation, and they hope to have the significant overhaul complete later this quarter.
The concept is indeed a high note for Samsung. But the problem is Samsung trying to do too much with their ecosystem. Truthfully, I don't forsee Bixby catching on. There has been a lot of big strides for both Amazon and Google's digital assistant, making Bixby, however clever it might get, feel redundant. That being said, Bixby anchors the digital assistant needs of the SmartThings ecosystem. Even though SmartThings plays nice now with other digital assistants, it isn't crazy to see a future where they double down on Bixby, just like they have with their own ecosystem.