This week at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, Samsung brought together its developer community for an event that has evolved quite a bit from its microscopic origins in a hotel meeting room around the corner from Union Square in San Francisco. In its new home in San Jose, SDC felt more focused than ever before in highlighting its core strength in driving developer interest and engagement: user base, consumer and enterprise play, security, intelligence, and tools.
It’s natural to want to compare SDC to Apple WWDC or Google i/o. Still, such a comparison would ignore the fact that Samsung does not control the underlying operating system for most of the devices they sell except for TVs and Wearables. This means that the touchpoints with developers aren’t naturally strong, and to build engagement, Samsung must be very intentional as to what they want they see as a differentiator over what Google would be able to deliver.
Lack of control on the underlying operating system also limits how Samsung can use SDC every year, not just to showcase what is coming in terms of features, but also what might be happening in terms of devices. Often, scrutinizing Google i/o or Apple WWDC gives clues as to what features the next version of the Pixel, or the iPhone might include.
I feel that compared to last year, Samsung has chosen a more focused approach to what the developer conference should mean to its audience, an audience that this year felt split between consumer and enterprise developers. The proposition Samsung has for these two segments is very clear:
- For developers interested in the consumer space, Samsung continues to offer a wide range of devices and their reach within consumers and their homes.
- From an enterprise perspective. Samsung offers the presence they established with Galaxy smartphones, tablets, and wearables. But also, and more importantly, Samsung provides the Knox platform helping developers deliver their applications, solutions, and services securely.
One UI 2.0
The promise of reaching so many millions of users across different categories of devices was best highlighted by the focus that Samsung has put in the redesign of their One UI. As Samsung showcased One UI 2.0, we saw a clear intention to empower developers to develop once and deploy across devices. The improvements to the One UI also reflect a deliberate attempt to increase ease of use through simplicity, as well as future-proofing gestures and designs that could fit new form factors like a unique foldable design that Samsung showed on stage, which looked very similar to the rumored upcoming Motorola RAZR foldable device. While the picture of a potential new foldable got people excited, it felt very different from last year, when the mock-up of what eventually became the Fold stole the show.
Security was another big pillar of this year’s event. As regulators across markets pay much more attention to applications and services, and how these use consumers’ data, Samsung is helping developers to deliver secure solutions like in the case of Tizen’s TIFA, where Samsung is assisting developers in complying with privacy standards. On the enterprise side, not necessarily something that gets a center stage at Apple or Google’s Developer Conferences, Samsung leveraged its partnerships power and DJ Koh’s belief that an open ecosystem is the only way to success and highlighted a collaboration with Microsoft that is getting stronger.
Enterprises trust Samsung as a hardware provider, hardware that is highly customizable and reliable. Enterprises trust Samsung as a security provider. But enterprises might not trust Samsung to be able to deliver an AI solution that is an enterprise-class AI solution. This is where the collaboration with Microsoft and IBM comes in. It was fascinating to see Microsoft on the SDC stage, pitching the Microsoft Graph to Samsung’s developers. Even though the Surface team recently announced a new Android-based device, the Surface Duo, Microsoft must know that Samsung offers a much broader opportunity for them when it comes to smartphones. Samsung’s smartphones and can be the best companions to Windows PCs, but they can also acquire data for the Microsoft Graph which is why showing developers the opportunity that the Microsoft graph represents was important.
Getting Serious About PCs
The partnership with Microsoft also meant that we saw on stage two new PC designs: the Galaxy Book Ion and the Galaxy Book Flex. I have spoken before about the strength that I see in Samsung’s PC offering for both design and understanding of what a connected PC experience should be. This, of course, includes the knowledge of what is needed to bring those devices to market working with the carriers.
What was interesting at SDC was that Samsung also highlighted a collaboration with Intel. After showcasing a Qualcomm based PC back in August at Unpacked, it was fascinating to listen to how Intel spoke about the partnership that they have with Samsung. I have been warning PC OEM for quite some time that Samsung was going to be an up and coming threat. Of course, there’s a balance that Samsung display and memory business, and Samsung Consumer Electronics business must find. Still, I started to see a definite change in how ready Samsung is to pursue the PC opportunity.
Bixby’s Brain Is What Matters
The last area of differentiation from a developer engagement standpoint was Bixby. ES Chung gave an update, and for one split moment, I heard what Bixby really is when one does not worry about competitors but looks instead at capabilities. Bixby is an intelligent platform with intelligent developers’ tools like Capsules. The brain is what Samsung should emphasize with Bixby, rather than the voice, as that would help reset expectations and would set up Bixby for success, not for failure. I don’t believe Bixby has much opportunity in the consumer market as a fully fledged digital assistant but, much like Cortana, there are B2B workflows that could benefit from the intelligence capabilities Bixby offers and that is where I would recommend Samsung focuses going forward especially when it can build on the Knox security platform.
All in all, I felt that Samsung brought the goods at this year’s event although they are still learning to talk about SDC news from the standpoint of “what’s in it for developers” it felt there was a clear focus that I hope will continue because the potential to make a difference for developers is real especially in markets outside of the US.