by Al Sacco

4 key takeaways from Samsung’s Developer Conference

Apr 29, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsInnovationInternet of Things

Virtual reality, the Internet of Things and smartphones took center stage at Samsung's annual developer conference this week, but what the company didn't say was equally notable.

SAN FRANCISCO —Samsung yesterday closed out its fourth annual developer conference. Coders and other attendees packed up their gear and left the City by the Bay with few doubts about the company’s priorities moving forward; the clear focus during the two-day event was not surprisingly on Galaxy smartphones, virtual reality (VR), smart home and Internet of Things (IoT).

However, if you paid close attention, Samsung also sent some less-obvious, yet just as important, messages. I attended both of Samsung’s flashy keynote addresses, sat quietly in the back of a handful of workshops and dutifully toured the product pavilion, in search of the “stories behind the story” at Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) 2016. Here are four things you might not haven’t heard about the event.

1. Very little love for wearables at SDC

The Gear VR headset is technically a piece of wearable technology, but VR headgear aside, Samsung spent little time addressing wearables or discussing development opportunities for other wearable tech, including the Gear S2 smartwatch, during its keynote addresses. In fact, you could count the mentions of the word “wearable” or “smartwatches” during those sessions on one hand — and you’d still have enough remaining digits to type a text.

[ Related: Samsung explains why it’s all in on VR ]

Samsung held a number of wearable-related developer workshops (12 of them), but many more such sessions were dedicated to other subjects, such as general mobility (23 workshops), IoT (22 sessions) Samsung Tizen platform (16 workshops) and gaming (14 sessions.)

The Gear S2 smartwatch and Gear Fit fitness band were on display in the product pavilion, along with a variety of colorful accessories, but they were simply eye candy. A hands-on Gear S2 workstation in the pavilion was the most prominent representation of wearables at the show.

I can’t say for sure what this notable dearth of attention to non-VR wearables portends for Samsung, or its smartwatch, but the little love for wearable tech at SDC was obvious.

samsung otto smarter home assistant

Otto, Samsung’s ‘smarter home assistant,’ is designed to answer simple voice search queries. (Click for larger image.)

2. Otto is to Samsung as Echo is to Amazon

In an effort to show off its IoT-specific platform, Artik, Samsung created an Amazon-Echo-esque voice assistant, dubbed Otto, that it calls a “smarter home companion.” Though the Otto devices that made appearances at SDC are only “reference designs,” Samsung clearly put effort into the gadget, and with the company’s accelerating push toward IoT, it stands to reason that Otto — or some iteration of it — will eventually hit the mass market.

[ Related: Amazon Echo’s 5 best new features ]

Like Echo, Otto can answer simple search queries via voice and control a variety of smart-home systems, such as lighting and thermostats. However, Otto is designed to also serve as an in-house camera system that lets users monitor their abodes from afar. Samsung says Otto has an “endearing personality,” as well, which could be viewed as a veiled knock on Alexa, Echo’s somewhat frigid-sounding voice component.

If nothing else, Otto serves as a tangible realization of Samsung’s commitment to further IoT.

3. KNOX key to Samsung’s future in enterprise — and consumer

Samsung KNOX, the company’s enterprise security and management suite, is not its sexiest product — unless, of course, you’re an infosec guy or gal who really loves your job. But KNOX just may be Samsung’s most important offering.

Today, KNOX is first and foremost a tool for mobile administrators, and it recently received more “strong” ratings than any other rival security platform examined by analyst firm Gartner, in its February report, “Mobile Device Security: A Comparison of Platforms.” However, Samsung also offers a consumer version that’s not managed by IT, called My KNOX, which lets users secure different sets of data and apps on their devices.

One announcement from SDC that didn’t receive a lot of media attention is that Samsung’s health and fitness app, S Health, will soon integrate with KNOX to protect users’ sensitive health information, according to the company.

Eric Consolazio, Cigna’s vice president of connected health for its IT customer solutions and innovations group, spoke during the SDC day-two keynote, and he predicted that smartphones will soon become a hub for all of peoples’ various medical information. Consolazio said smartphones will evolve into “primary care devices.”

Today, privacy and security concerns keep many if not the majority of people from fully embracing their devices as medical or financial tools. If hardware and software makers are ever going to overcome those fears, they’ll have to convince people the information they store on and transmit via mobile devices is genuinely secure. KNOX could help Samsung take significant steps in that direction, and its decision to integrate S Health and KNOX suggest the move may be the first of many.

4. Samsung makes EVERYTHING, and it plans to make MORE EVERYTHING

This last takeaway isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it was impossible to ignore while roaming around the SDC show floor: Samsung makes just about every kind of electronic device you can imagine: Phones; tablets; laptops, desktops and convertible PCs; smart and “dumb” TVs; cameras; displays; refrigerators; washing machines; speaker systems; motherboards; semiconductors; storage in a variety of formats; and … you get the point. And that’s just the hardware side of things.

With its new commitment to VR and IoT, you can expect the company to flood those markets with new devices and software, as well. And as more and more devices connect and integrate with other services, its Artik IoT platform should help provide a more seamless experience.

In other words, Samsung already makes everything when it comes to electronics, and in the coming years, it’s going to make more everything. Arguments could be made around the benefits and challenges of this reality, but one thing is for sure: You’re going to hear a lot from Samsung in the near future.