What is Samsung up to? That question seems to resonate throughout the year as the company launches product after product. Samsung has the capability to manufacture whatever it wants, whenever it wants, but it’s not always clear what its strategy is.
I talked to Curtis Sasaki, Senior Vice President of Samsung Media Solutions Center, at the Samsung Developer’s Conference last month in an attempt to gain some insight into the company’s gadget strategy. The main takeaway seemed to be that Samsung really wants to please its customers. Sasaki also offered a bit of insight on the company’s wearables and virtual reality strategies and how it addresses critics of the Tizen OS.
Greenbot: There were a lot of announcements at the Samsung Developers Conference, many of which seemed to suggest that Samsung’s casting a rather wide net with its vast number of SDKs. Where is all of this headed?
Sasaki: Samsung is a long time innovator—just look at the number of patents we filed this year. There are at least a couple of areas that are wide open to developers. With Oculus, for instance, we’re taking a leadership position to kick start this new VR world.
Smart home is also another area where there are a lot of players out there. But how do you put it together in an open platform? With Smart Things, as we’ve seen, being able to plug and play different third party devices into it and having other people write these interesting integrations is just amazing.
Greenbot: Wearables were also another big part of the developers conference. Any indication of where that is headed?
Sasaki: Wearables for us is still in its infancy. I think the market is still young, but since [the Gear S] is our sixth generation [smart watch], we learned what consumers’ behavior is, what they like to do with the watches, and what they wished for.
The Gear S, for us, addresses what customers are saying. We’re not learning—we’ve already learned. This is just an iteration based on customer feedback.
Greenbot: Certainly there’s still a lot to learn from the Gear S, right?
Sasaki: That’s one thing about the company—they really listen to what consumers say. They have the supply chain capability to react very literally. We’ve had complaints about [previous versions of] the Note and why it was all plastic, but now it’s metal—that’s all from consumer feedback. The added heart rate monitor—that’s from consumer feedback. And this, putting a GSM radio, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth LE in the Gear S is an engineering masterpiece to be able to do that and still have battery life. But we did it because consumers asked for untethered applications.
Greenbot: But the Gear S still feels like it’s the first iteration of its kind.
Sasaki: It’s our first try at a standalone product. I think other companies will begin to figure out that some consumers want an untethered device.
Greenbot: You mentioned Oculus—where are Samsung’s VR plans headed? How do you see developers leveraging Samsung’s virtual reality SDKs?
Sasaki: I’m not the VR person, but I think this space is relatively new. It’s about thinking differently about content creation and game creation. I find interesting that some of the content being produced is not what I expected. YouVisit, for instance, created this company around creating virtual tours of ivy league schools. You put the [Oculus] on and they can actually walk through a campus.
I also think what’s exciting about this space is that there are applications we don’t know about…that are probably going to open up people’s imaginations. I know with the camera that we showed…having the Golden Gate Bridge that you can experience—it’s pretty stunning. There’s going to be interesting ways to create content without having to do a lot of work.
Greenbot: What do you have to say to some of the critics that criticize Tizen because of the fact that the mobile market is already so saturated?
Sasaki: Our view is that you have to look at the consumers: what do consumers want? If they’re buying Samsung TVs, if they’re buying our appliances, if they’re buying watches, do they really care about what OS is in them? They probably care more about if it works well, if it’s fast, and if there’s interoperability between these devices.
Do we look at it as an Android versus Tizen thing? Obviously not. We’re a huge Android shipper. We love Android. But we think within Samsung products, we have to have that level of connectivity and openness and be able to create the user experiences we need to have these beautiful products. If you’re a developer of an Android application and you want to leverage our Gear S, for example, you use one of our SDKs and create rich notifications. So, the consumer has a great experience, the developer has very little work to do to enable these notifications on the Gear, and they do it within the Android environment.
Greenbot: How would you like consumers to see the Tizen OS?
Sasaki: It’s interesting. Most consumers probably don’t care. Most consumers care about whether [a product] meets their price range, whether it has a functionality they need, if it’s reliable, if it breaks, and if it gets support. To me, it’s not about Tizen—it’s about experiences. If we create the best experience, then that’s fine. We don’t have to push Tizen, per se.
Greenbot: Google is bringing Android into all these new spaces, like the car and the living room. Will Samsung make gadgets that fit within Google’s new vision?
Sasaki: I don’t know. You have to take one each individually. We are sort of the market leader in TVs, and we sort of know what consumers like in terms of the TV experience probably better than other companies. So we’ll continue down that path. If we see something better, we’ll evaluate it, but we also want differentiation. Consumers want the best possible experience.
Greenbot: How long have you been an Android user?
Sasaki: I bought the very first HTC and I didn’t use it for very long. The next time I used Android was the [first generation] Samsung Galaxy, and in between I used a BlackBerry and iOS device.
Greenbot: What are you using now?
Sasaki: The Samsung Galaxy Note 4. This is probably Samsung’s best ever.