Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Samsung Canada - Analyst Event/Omnia Launch/Other Thoughts

Last Thursday, I attended Samsung Canada's first in-person analyst briefing. Unless you follow them, this is one of those companies that's far bigger and more diverse than you may have ever expected. They're a bit like GE in that they only want to be in markets where they are either the number one or number two player. Like many Asian electronics giants, we were shown how Samsung came from humble roots, and now is a dominant brand across the full gamut of consumer electronics and home appliances. This was pretty evident from their showroom which had all of these products on display, so if you just think of them for one type of product, you're definitely missing the bigger picture.

The focus of our get-together was mobile phones, with four agendas. First was an overview of Samsung's position in the Canadian mobile market, with recent news showing them to be in the number one spot, which is pretty impressive considering the playing field.

It was pretty interesting to hear how well they've segmented the market - as any leading mobile vendor must do these days. Not only did we see various types of phones for various types of end users (I especially liked the CLEO model for women that looks like a makeup kit, and the RUGBY model for the well, rugged market) - but of course they have exclusive models for each carrier. So, Bell gets the Ace smartphone and Rogers gets the Jack, etc. Nothing unique here, but it's a good first-hand reminder of just how competitive the handset market is these days. We're a very long way from the days when a handful of models could carry a vendor a long way.

Second, Alec Taylor presented from Microsoft Canada about Windows Mobile 6.1 and how it brings out the best in Samsung's phones. This was a good opportunity to update us on what's new with their platform as well as how closely they are working with Samsung.

Third was the Canadian launch of the Omnia, their touchscreen answer to the iPhone. Being exclusive to Bell and Telus, it's for the CDMA crowd and will compete head on with the likes of HTC. The news was under embargo until today - which is why I couldn't blog about this sooner - and the release hit the wires first thing today.

We all got to play with it a bit, and at first glance it looks like a great device. Not being an iPhone user, I can't make a fair comparison, but what stood out for me was the 5.0 Megapixel camera, which is right up there with the Nokia smartphones I've spent so much time with.

Pricing wasn't discussed, and come to think of it, I don't think anybody asked - hmm. Anyhow, the tie-in to Microsoft was pretty clear as Windows Mobile 6.1 enables not just our everyday Office applications to make this a great device for work, but also for play with all kinds of multimedia apps, high-end video shooting/editing, cool online widgets and easy to use uploading/file sharing features for social networking. As the name says, Omnia does it all. That's a nice bit of branding - another example of how Samsung is a savvy consumer-oriented company. I like that.

Fourth, but not finally was the green theme. They talked about the "Blue Earth" phone, which was pretty neat, and was green by virtue of being solar powered and having biodegradable corn-based plastic components. Am not sure why it's got blue in the name, but these are pretty forward-thinking ideas. It's hard to tell just how effective solar power will be here, but they sure have the right idea. I'm not a huge mobile device user, and am astounded - among other things I won't express here - at how they're treated pretty much as disposable gadgets.

I'm sure the vast majority of cell phones we move on from work perfectly well, but are simply out of fashion and can't compete with the latest cool models. No doubt there's an element of fashion to these devices today, and marketing is all about turnover, but it doesn't ever seem to be the vendor's problem when it's time for a new phone.

As some of you know, my son Max has become very adept at buying and selling phones in the secondary market, but he'll never make a dent in the untold millions of phones that we stop using but don't know what to do with. I better stop now, and let's not bring up Apple, who takes the cake for planned obsolesence with batteries that aren't meant to be replaced and devices that are only built to last 1-2 years.

Enough - let's end on a high note and stay friends, ok? This is a long-winded way of saying that I admire what Samsung is doing here, and would love to see more of the same down the road.

Finally, I'd like to come full circle to the beginning of this post and pose a simple question. There aren't many companies out there that make just about every electric or battery powered product we use on a regular basis both inside and outside the home. Maybe I'm missing something here, but isn't Samsung in a great position to tie all these things together with Smart Home-style solutions?

It couldn't be that hard to embed broadband-enabled RFID tags in all these devices so they can communicate with each other and have centralized control. On the bright side, there was a touch of this with Omnia, which can easily/quickly relay video files wirelessly to TVs and PCs. That's not really what I'm getting at, but it's the closest thing that I could see from what was on tap.

Y'know, poll your family on your Jack - collaborate a bit - and decide what's for dinner. Pick up what you need in the store, and on the way home, send off a message to preheat the oven (for those of us who still cook with a stove!). Then you get a message from your dryer saying that the clothes could use another 15 minutes - click yes to start now. If it works as advertised, it's a beautiful thing. Of course if it doesn't - or your clever but angry teenager does some hacking - you may come home to a house that's burning down.

You get the idea - how cool would that be? I've seen the futuristic vision that Microsoft has with Natural User Interfaces, so why not partner up and let us have some fun stringing all these things together? It would sure be an interesting way to cross-sell Samsung products and come up with some creative bundling for retailers and the builder/developer community. Well? I'm either dreaming or giving away some good ideas here. The meter isn't running, so I'll stop now. Thanks Samsung, and maybe next time around we could have a session built around this.

Samsung's Paul Brennan and the Omnia launch; Microsoft Canada's Alec Taylor and Windows Mobile 6.1

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