Samsung is claiming that it is the world’s first connected TV manufacturer to enable its existing models to be fully upgraded so that they can keep up with the rapid developments appearing on new models. The company used CES 2012 to announce the Samsung Evolution Kit Installed, which provides a slot in the Smart TV models shipping this year so that it can deliver cards from 2013 onwards that upgrade functionality for the installed base of devices. The move should help to reassure consumers that it is worth buying today in what is still a relatively immature marketplace characterized by rapid innovation.
Given that connected TVs are primarily a way to ship more product for the CE vendors, Samsung appears to be taking a calculated risk, sacrificing the bi-annual replacement purchases of early adopters who always want the latest features in an attempt to convince the mass-market that it is worth buying today rather than waiting for the great things that will arrive 12 months later. Either that, or they are confident that it is innovations in hardware that will keep the power-buyers coming back for more, and this CES seems to herald the arrival of the large screen OLED, with much thinner screens and bezels, which are dramatically more attractive.
Maybe Samsung expects to make more of its money in future as a service provider, and that would certainly benefit from getting these TVs into homes sooner rather than later so people can get used to the smart features and perhaps start exploring some of the content services where Samsung is looking for revenue shares. And realistically, the company is probably acknowledging that the mass-market consumer will simply not update their TV for five plus years anyway, and would rather sit on an outmoded and increasingly dumb device, so better to keep them impressed and engaged with the brand and its services than not during that period.
BK Yoon, President of Samsung Electronics Division, declared: “We are making televisions that are smart enough to adapt to the future, so they will evolve every year in performance and services. Our Smart TVs will get smarter every year without having to purchase a new television set. Evolution makes your TV new every year.”
Joe Stinziano, Senior Vice President at Samsung Electronics, explains: “Some of our customers said they are worried about being left behind by the roll-out of new features and we want people to get access to what is coming tomorrow. We are now the world’s first TV brand offering consumers a future-proofed Smart TV.”
‘Smart Evolution’ is one of the three big themes that provide the focus for Samsung at CES 2012. The others are Smart Content and Smart Interaction. When it comes to the interaction part, Samsung is now providing voice recognition, gesture control and face recognition on its new models of Smart TV, which feature a built-in camera discretely embedded above the screen. In demonstrations, the company has been showing how you can speak commands like, “Channel up”, “Volume down”, “Channel 31” or use hand gestures to scroll channels. Face recognition means every member of the family can have their own profile (with their choice of apps) without having to actively log-in when they use the TV.
Stinziano is calling all this new interaction a milestone in Smart TV but Samsung may not have thought through the implications for world peace. Today, every fight amongst the kids about which channel to watch can be resolved by the parent demanding: “Give me the remote”. In future this may not settle the arguments. Perhaps at CES next year the software will include a virtual “Give me the remote” command, which relegates all other visual and aural claims below that of the bill payer and leaves them in sole charge of the television once again!
Another important innovation this year, and one that harnesses the increasing processing power in the televisions, is multi-tasking. Samsung is claiming another world first in Las Vegas by doing for TV what the Apple iPhone 4 famously bought to smartphones: the ability to open an app, open another without closing it, and toggle between the two. The other major themes from Samsung, mirrored by other CE vendors and which we will report on elsewhere, are the multi-screen and companion screen experiences set around the Smart TV, and the creation of a whole-home smart networking environment covering multiple devices from TVs, tablets and phones to household appliances.
The flagship Smart TV product that will lead the charge for Samsung this year, certainly in the U.S., is the ES8000 LCD. This has a dual-core processor and is available in screen sizes up to 75 inches.