For several years now, Samsung’s August Unpacked event has been bringing to the market the latest generation of their Galaxy Note and this week at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn was no different.
The formula was a familiar one, with a focus on productivity and delivering a powerful device for Samsung’s most engaged and loyal customers. Ten years on from the original Note launch, that created the “phablet” category, a lot has changed in the market, and Samsung’s latest iteration of its flagship reflects such changes:
- Most phones got larger, and while the Note started with providing a larger screen, the differentiation over time became the full experience centered around the screen rather than the screen itself. While some consumers might be happy to push size to the limit with the Note 10+ Plus and its 6.8” display, Samsung thought well that some might prefer the smaller 6.3” screen of the Note 10. When we consider that most of the competition, especially coming out of China, is choosing the larger size for their flagship products, one can see an opportunity for Samsung to attract a wider audience with a premium experience in a more mainstream size.
- The addition of the smaller Note 10 and the wider range of colors for this year’s line up, also makes me feel that Samsung recognises that Note power users can be female too.
- The Note family also gets a 5G variant, but wisely 5G it is not the default throughout the lineup. While Note buyers appreciate cutting edge technology, they are also technology-savvy users who understand the current coverage limitations of 5G. Having a variant for Verizon allows Samsung to please early adopters who are most likely on an annual upgrade cycle, as well as early mainstream who might be happy to wait till next year to embrace 5G.
- Productivity takes on a broader meaning thanks to an upgraded SPen and DeX. Productivity is not just about traditional workflows and apps, it now embraces the creation of content that bridges the physical and digital.
In a way, I feel that the Note has grown up to really marry work and play in the most seamless way and not because of hardware, but because of software and services integration that this year also included Outlook, OneDrive, Your Phone and Link to Windows for a better smartphone to PC workflow.
Partnerships for a Best of Breed Ecosystem
Probably the most interesting part of Unpacked2019 was the newly announced open collaboration between Samsung and Microsoft. A collaboration that started many years ago and culminated this week with Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella joining on stage Samsung Electronics’ CEO DJ Koh to talk about how together they can empower every person and every business to do their best work.
Marketing soundbite aside, the relationship between the two companies is full of potential. DJ Koh mentioned a few times the term “open collaboration,” and I have to admit I am not quite sure what it means. When it comes to Microsoft and Samsung working together, I think of their collaboration as highly complementary. Microsoft gets key software and services in the pockets of what eventually will be millions of users as the collaboration expands from the Note to other devices. Samsung gets from the pockets onto the desks of millions of people broadening the value delivered by their phones. Maybe open, in this instance, means transparent and purposeful. Samsung has no aspiration in the cloud business, and I am quite sure Microsoft has no aspiration to compete in the smartphone market.
The collaboration also included the reveal of the Galaxy Book S an ultra-slim always on, always connected PC built on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon solution. While the market has been moving slowly, there is no question that the future of PCs is connected and Samsung understands how to design for a highly mobile computing experience as well as how to work with carriers to bring it to market.
While some might look at the announcement as just marketing fluff, I think it creates a lot of upside for both brands. The opportunity in the short term is to create stickiness by widening the value each individual brand brings to the table. The phone drives more value because of the deeper and seamless connection to the PC, which in turns gets more value because of the phone and the cloud. We are talking about a seamless workflow which most would argue is only possible in an Apple ecosystem.
Longer-term, I would like this collaboration to bring more integrated experiences that highlight Microsoft’s cloud and intelligence. Think of Microsoft apps like Translator or Pix and how much bigger their uptake would be if they were embedded in the phone experience. On the enterprise side, there is also an opportunity for Cortana’s brain to add to Bixby’s voice given the former was told will never become a digital assistant in a traditional sense and the latter has been struggling to take off.
What is clear is that Samsung with Microsoft can pursue the US enterprise market more aggressively both with hardware – phones, PCs and wearables – and solutions, potentially helping to compensate for a saturated consumer market.
What About Google?
Some event commentators pointed out that Google and Android were two names that were not mentioned during Unpacked and wondered what could be read into it. Microsoft and Google serve different purposes in my mind. In a way, it seems that Samsung is decoupling the OS they use from the ecosystem they want to build through partnerships that at times might compete with Google while still benefitting Android. Google’s relationship remains key to Samsung when it comes to operating system and consumers services. For Google, Samsung remains the leading Android brand and a technology partner that will bring smartphones into 5G and foldable designs. The two companies, however, have more overlap in business aspirations than they did at the start of the smartphone market.
As Google gets more serious about their hardware, it is to be expected it will tighten the services and hardware offering, but this might not be appealing to those users, especially in enterprise, who are rooted in the Microsoft ecosystem and want to use an Android phone.
Google has always been quite platform agnostic when it comes to its services, but considering how much business overlap there is between Google Cloud and Azure and G Suite and Office365, it is unlikely we would see the level of integration Samsung and Microsoft are driving. I would welcome Samsung’s renewed collaboration with Microsoft as a value add to Android users who might otherwise think they need to look elsewhere for a seamless multi-device computing experiences.