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Monday 19 March 2018

Samsung shows big ambition at CES

Mark Lyndersay writes a weekly column for the Newsday. 

Samsung led big with its presentation at CES 2018, introducing the intimidatingly named The Wall, a massive 146 inch television sporting a list of new technologies. Key among these are newly developed MicroLED imaging sites that supply their own light and dispense with the backlighting and colour filter normally used on LED displays.

The company claims dramatically improved colour and brightness with the new technology.

But at a press conference held on Monday at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, the message, tightly woven into the introduction of new refrigerators, a new laptop designed with Note lovers at heart and a revamped line of televisions and screens, was on the creation of a network for the future.

A surprising amount of what the company revealed at the event was still in various stages of development.

The company has been buying startups by the dozen, and has invested $14 billion in R&D. A new, $380 million US-based production facility will deliver its first washing machines next week.

All told, Samsung sells a billion devices a year and has quietly made a startling 90 per cent of them networkable. The company plans to only have connectable devices coming off its manufacturing lines by 2020.

But making its devices talk to each other is only the first step in what is clearly an ambitious plan to carve out a new presence for the Samsung brand in a rapidly evolving technology landscape.

HS Kim, President and CEO of Samsung Electronics America, announced that previous technologies designed to link its devices into useful networks, Samsung Connect, Smart Home and Smart View would be deprecated and replaced with a new SmartThings app, available in the third quarter of 2018.

SmartThings is an internet platform developer that Samsung acquired in 2014 and the company’s cloud platform, hub technology and software have assumed great prominence in the future plans of Samsung as an enabler of seamless lifestyle connectivity.

This new emphasis on devices linked for mutual advantage was underlined at every point in every discussion of the new products, sending a clear signal that the effective implementation of user-friendly network, not the products was the medium term goal of the company.

It was particularly focused in the presentation by Dinesh Paliwal, president and CEO of Harman, a company once in the business of audio for the home and the car, but acquired in November 2016 by Samsung and refocused on the many challenges of self-driving vehicles. The company announced three products in its initial beachhead on this evolving landscape: a Telematics control unit governing a sensor network for these vehicles; Driveline, a merging of high-performance computing and pervasive cloud presence; and most appealing, a re-imagining of the car dashboard as an all digital cockpit, showing both sleek modern touches and retro styling that was a joy to view.

The vehicle technology and, to a lesser extent, its lifestyle network enabled by AI agents and pervasive sensors will work with 4GLTE but is being designed with an eye on 5G networks, which will enable fibre-level bandwidth in the hundreds of gigabits.

Samsung isn’t waiting on that day though. The company has tested 5G at two locations in Korea and proven that it can stream 8K video to a train travelling at 60 mph. Rejuvenated by their year of quiet reflection in the wake of the Note 7 disaster, Samsung is now a company that wants to slap all these balls for six and it’s aiming well beyond the expectations.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column and additional reporting from CES can be found there.


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