The bundling of the new Samsung S7 phones with the Gear VR headset is not only a marketing gimmick, but a pointer to the company’s place in the Internet of Things, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
We have seen many incentives to buy new smartphones, from TV sets to DVD players to fridges. These usually bore little relation to the handsets themselves, and often carried completely unrelated brand names.
As the Internet of Things comes closer to everyday reality, it might just start making sense to buy bundles of appliances that can connect to each other. While the everyday reality of a connected universe of appliances is still years away, the possibilities are already becoming apparent on showroom floors. Monitoring a home washing machine from a smartphone at work? Turning on the lounge air conditioning while still in the traffic? All ready for prime time.
It is for this reason that Samsung’s vast empire of consumer appliances, smartphones, components and experimental devices is beginning to emerge as a potential differentiator from brands that compete head-on in one or two product categories.
To put that in perspective, last year Samsung topped the list of patents awarded in the USA – home to the world’s most patent-hungry tech companies. And this year it announced it was cooperating with Microsoft on IoT devices running on Windows 10.
For this reason, last week’s launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge phones in South Africa could be seen as representing part of this “new” future for the group. Anyone buying the phone outright or on contract for the first 10 days also receives a free Gear VR unit, which typically retails at around R2000.
Sadly, the virtual reality headset does not have a life of its own: it needs a Galaxy Note 5, S6 or S7 – or their Edge variations – to operate. It has separate docking ports for the smaller and larger handsets. An Oculus Rift app on the phone presents a pair of images to the pair of lenses in the headset, which the user’s eyes merge into one surround image.
In that sense, we are still looking at the world of plugged-in things. But bear in mind that Samsung’s most visible competitors in this space, the expensive HTC Vive and Oculus Rift’s own headset, require the user to be plugged into a PC. In other words, the Gear VR, along with LG’s 360 VR, take virtual reality fully mobile.
It is in this context that we can see the full implications of comments like that made by Craige Fleischer, director of Integrated Mobility at Samsung Electronics South Africa, at the S7 launch: “We are committed to empowering our consumers with groundbreaking technological solutions, in order to enhance the user experience of our products.”
The attention on the S7 and S7 Edge will be focused mainly on the extent to which the phones are an improvement over the previous generation, and whether they will maintain Samsung’s technological and sales leadership achieved with the S4 several years ago. That will probably mask the extent to which the ecosystem around these devices is evolving dramatically.
Fast wired charging and wireless charging continues to improve, battery life finally extends beyond a working day, and the devices now carry a hybrid SIM card tray similar to that in the Huawei Mate S – it allows a microSD card as well as a dual SIM card, if that is enabled in the region.
The Samsung Pay function goes well beyond the iPhone’s Apple Pay options, with protection from the Samsung KNOX security system, authentication via fingerprint scanning and tokenisation, and payment via Near Field Communication (NFC), Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST), or Barcode technology. That links the phones to more payment devices than any other handsets, making it the best integrated devices with what we can call the Internet of Payments.
“The beautiful story behind the innovation of our mobile products is centered on putting the customer first and that’s keeping us ahead of the pack,” said Fleischer.
The launch of the handsets comes a few weeks after Samsung showcased its full 2016 range of consumer electronics and appliances at the Samsung Africa Forum, an event held in Monaco but aimed at its partners and resellers in Africa.
Among other, it unveiled:
* The latest version of the Samsung Smart TV operating system based on its own Tizen OS; it automatically recognises other connected devices, including the type of set-top box, game console, OTT box or home theatre system that is connected to the TV.
* A new line-up of SUHD TVs that feature Quantum dot display for more true-to-life display, as well as the world’s first bezel-less curved design.
* A new audio product line-up, including the HW-K950 Soundbar, the company’s first to feature Dolby Atmos.
* Samsung’s Twin Cooling Plus refrigerator technology, which keeps the freezer frost-free and prevents the build-up of ice, and can turn the freezer into a regular fridge when space is required or the user leaves home for a long period. African consumers were specifically targeted with a vertical freezer, a 180-litre top-mounted freezer, a 1-Door 110-litre fridge, and a small 150-litre chest freezer.
* The Samsung Front Load Washer uses a new AddWash feature that allows a piece of forgotten laundry to be added to the wash via a small second access door. It also uses EcoBubble technology, which premixes detergent with air and water, penetrating clothes faster.
The specialised technology for each of these product categories is evolving in tandem with Samsung’s Internet of Things initiatives, meaning the two universes are beginning to collide into the concept that is already being hyped as the Smart Home of the near future.
That, in turn, means that the smartphone bundles we will be offered in the near future are going to look a lot like the ones from the past, but will also make a lot more sense.