Samsung Unpacked 2018
On Thursday, Samsung held its “unpacked 2018” event in Brooklyn where they announced the Note 9, the Galaxy Watch, a DeX dongle, and they teased the Galaxy Home. A lot was packed in a keynote of just over an hour including an update to Bixby. Rather than summarizing all the product details, I am sharing the links to the press releases and I get straight into my key takeaways for each product
- The Note 9 is an interesting iteration of this product family. The additional colors, the more curved design all point to a product that was initially designed for geeks to a product now trying to expand its reach into more mainstream early tech who value tech but also design. There is certainly more of a blend between the Note and the Galaxy family than there ever was before.
- Samsung regained its confidence and pushed the envelope when it came to battery capacity something that Note users always looked for in their device.
- Overall the Note 9 is a good step up from the previous generation although there is no real breakthrough technology it has a lot of offer to previous Note owners looking for an upgrade.
- As people look at the Note 9 to help Samsung turn its quarterly sales back to growth, it is worth to remember that the Note family has never been a big volume driver but it certainly does impact average ASP. As we see often with the Galaxy S launch and with iPhone, the price reduction on the previous model usually helps with volume. This is why I expect the Note 8, which was a well-received product last year, to play its part as carriers and retailers lower its price.
- There is no doubt that Samsung values the Note 9 users tremendously as DJ Koh highlighted in its open remarks at unpacked. This loyal and highly engaged group is not just important for the revenue it brings but for how it helps Samsung understand their users. Often early adopters are a window into the future of the larger user base, showing what could be tolerated, accepted or loved.
- DJ Koh closed the event with an interesting comment about how hard it is to innovate with an annual cadence and I think the Note 9 might have shown how sometimes technology innovation does not quite aligned with launch cycles. Some commentators pointed to the lack of the under-screen fingerprint reader and 5G both likely to come in time for the Galaxy S10 launch. Of course, the Note 9 is optimized for Advanced LTE which will be available in more markets than 5G will initially be, so from a consumer perspective a better technology to have.
- This cadence does, however, pose an interesting dilemma for Samsung going forward when it comes to keeping the Note line ahead of the Galaxy S line. I would argue the difference between the two products is less and less obvious because the user base is less differentiated. Think about the iPhone X and the iPhone 8/8 Plus buyers. iPhone X might have a slightly higher income and a desire to experiment with new tech but by and large, they are not that different from iPhone 8/8Plus buyers.
- Samsung also added a DeX Dongle to the lineup and rightly positioned Dex as a piece of software, not an accessory. It is the software running on the devices that allows you to connect a Samsung’s phone or tablet to an external monitor or a TV and run apps on the monitor while still having access to the phone or tablet indecently. The dongle form factor increases mobility even further and while one could use a regular HDMI dongle Samsung does not guarantee optimal performance.
- At last Samsung decided to abandon the Gear brand for its watch line! What might have been initially designed as an accessory to a phone is now a device in its own right and one that looks and functions very much like a watch so calling it what it is was the smart choice to make.
- I feel that with this product Samsung finally has a real Apple Watch competitor. The design has improved by getting thinner and less bulky overall and the features offered tick all the must-haves consumers want from a smartwatch: fitness, sleep tracking, stress management, notification and day planning.
- I do not see the fact that Samsung Watch is sticking with Tizen rather than embracing Android Wear as a problem. Most users, even in the Apple Watch pool do not use many apps outside of what comes with the watch. Given how slow Android Wear development has been going, sticking to Tizen has allowed Samsung to move faster and improve more. We will see if this remains the case as we know Qualcomm has an event planned for September 10th which will likely be tied to some Android Wear announcement.
- The Galaxy Watch added stress management with a breathing feature which is quite different from the Apple Watch Breathe App. The concept is quite similar both invite you to take time in your day to breath. While the Apple Watch Breathe App though is something you set as a break throughout the day, Samsung linked the prompts base on your heart rate and activity. I liked this because it shows that Samsung is thinking about software and AI more.
- Samsung is widening its accessory business with a wireless charging pad that can fit a phone and a Watch and adds a whole gamut of watch bands including a very comfortable silicone band. Galaxy Watch can fit a traditional watch strap but Samsung’s have a quick release mechanism that takes the pain of swapping them out.
Bixby and Galaxy Home
- Samsung showed a new and improved Bixby that graduated from a user interface to an assistant role. With improvements to natural language, personalization and usefulness Samsung also shared some of their partnerships with Google Maps, Uber, and other brands that Bixby will be able to access to perform her new assistant role to book a ride or a restaurant.
- The demo on stage worked well but many consumers who gave Bixby a try in the past and had been disappointed might be reluctant to try again. The good news for Samsung is that this new Bixby is rolling out first on the Note 9 and if there is an audience willing to cut Samsung some slack and try Bixby again is this one.
- For more details on how Samsung will be able to scale these partnerships without being left doing all the work we will have to wait for the Samsung’s Developer Conference in early November
- We did not get many details on the Galaxy Home but it should not be a surprise that Samsung is taking a similar approach to Apple putting sound quality first. After all, Samsung can leverage the Harman expertise and street cred in this space.
- Samsung announced a strategic partnership with Spotify that will allow users to link their Samsung’s account to their Spotify account right during setup. The deal extends to a wide range of devices from phones to Watch and TVs, and of course the new Galaxy Home. The account pairing will allow to seamlessly move from one device to another without having to interrupt the music.
- Spotify’s CEO also said on stage that support for Bixby will be added soon. It remains to be seen if data will be shared so that Bixby can get smarter by getting information from all the devices I am using to offer a truly seamless experience
- Of course, at least on paper, this offers Spotify an opportunity to grow its user base in the US, where Apple recently took the leadership position in paid subscription. The Street seemed excited about the prospects of the deal and Spotify’s shares rose nearly 5 percent Thursday, rising over 8 points to close at $187.38 per share.
- At the start of the event, DJ Koh, who has been leading the Mobile Division since 2015 and became a co-CEO in 2017, thanked the Note Users but also highlighted Samsung’s vision of bringing all their devices together to provide a better experience for the users. We started hearing about this last year at the Samsung Developer Conference and then again at CES this year. What was interesting this time was that Mr. Koh talked about the competition and their desire to put their interest before those of their customers and that Samsung was going to engage in innovation that delivered value to its users. There was also a clear message on Privacy and Security, a message that echoed Apple but also a message that has very solid foundations in KnoX.
- This was the first time DJ Koh spoke about what the company stands for and what they want to focus on. It was a welcome change and I hope we will get to hear more.
- Samsung is in a fortunate and unfortunate position of not being an American company. Fortunate, as Samsung will not be dragged into the current trade war between China and US while Apple might be. Unfortunate, because DJ Koh and other executives do not have the ear of the press as much as Apple’s executives have – when they want to. This makes it harder to create more of a connection between users and brand.