Samsung exec: Pretty hardware is great, but in the end, it’s the services that matter most

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Date:
07-Nov-2013
Input sound file:
1001.MP3

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Session Name: With So Many Devices, is Software the New Black?

Announcer
Chris Albrecht
Stacey Higginbotham
Curtis Sasaki

[music]

Announcer 01:08
Ladies and gentlemen, please take your sits, the program is about to begin.

[music]
Announcer 02:02
Please welcome your MC, Chris Albrecht back to the stage.
Chris Albrecht 02:06
All right, home stretch, here we are. I’m not going to go through the house keeping, kind of things, because if you don’t know him by now, you’ll never going to know him. So I’m just going to bring out our next guest, who I forgot to mention last time, so she had an Internet of Things discussion earlier. She is actually the host of our Internet of Things podcast which I highly recommend you listen to. You can find it on iTunes, on SoundCloud, and at GigaOM, just look for the Internet of Things podcast and you’ll be able to listen to Stacy interview all kinds of people across the IoT space every week that comes out every Tuesday by the way. So, she’s going to be talking with Curtis Sasaki of Samsung Electronics about: With so many devices, is software the new black? Please welcome, Stacey and Curtis out to the stage.

[applause]
Stacey Higginbotham 02:55
I could’ve listen to that music a lot more, I’m like in my groove on. All right, I’m back. I’m ready to be excited about the Smart Home again, and Curtis has graciously agreed to let me question him about all kinds of things that I’ve been wondering. I’m actually a huge Samsung person in terms of… I’ve got a phone. I was eyeing up your watch and I was kind of excited. See, that’s not a phone. That’s like a mini tablet. I don’t know– [chuckle] It’s too much phone for me. And because I’m obsessed with the Internet of Things and the Smart Home, I thought I’d be great to talk with you about the television, because we had this conversation and we talked about like the Xbox and computer site, and projections, and microphones, and it was amazing and kind of exiting. But it ignored the fact that I have like a 50 semi-inched television in my living room, and what am I going to do with that?
Curtis Sasaki 03:50
Sure. Well, I think if you look at our 2013 TV, it already has some pretty amazing capabilities built-in. It’s got even motion detect– you can actually change the volume by waving at your TV, and the remote has a microphone so you can actually do a voice recognition to change channels. But I think the more important thing is how our consumers actually now using– what are they actually doing when sit in front of a TV. I think that’s been a interesting shift where– I don’t know if we’re becoming a more of an ADD society, but when I’m watching TV I have sort of my tablet here – and I’m sure some of you guys probably do the same things as I do – and have your phone on this side. That’s three screen already, and then now with the watch, there’s actually four screens. I think there’s a change of behavior now happening where before when people watch TV it was sort of this always this lean-back experience, but now I’m not sure if it’s a sort of lean-forward or lean-halfway because you’re doing this watching TV. So, I think companies like Samsung, what we’ve been looking at is, how do you begin to create experiences that begin to augment the experiences. And when families are watching TV now, I don’t know about you, but we’re seeing where– like if I take a photo of my daughter and I want to immediately share it with the whole family, do you actually do this and pass you phone around?
Stacey Higginbotham 05:18
I do. I’m old–
Curtis Sasaki 05:18
You do?
Stacey Higginbotham 05:19
— school.
Curtis Sasaki 05:19
Okay. Well, if you had a bigger screen, maybe a–
Stacey Higginbotham 05:21
See, and I’ve got a small screen.
Curtis Sasaki 05:24
But the kinds of experience that we actually want to create is, have a photo on my phone and I just go, ‘hoop’ and immediately share it on beautiful TV. So, last week we have First Developers Conference and we showed things like that. We had an application where you had Twitter feed here, you’re watching a soccer game, and rather than everybody tuning into the Twitter, I just go, boom! And just that portion of the Twitter that was important, we show up on the TV. Not the whole Twitter application but just the feed itself. So I think the kinds of things that we’re pretty excited about is this whole multi-screen experiences that not just about marrying the experience from here to a TV, but really creating this augmented experience.
Stacey Higginbotham 06:16
I’m seeing a distinct lack of snuggling. Like when I watch TV with my husband, but there’s usually like a little cuddling action as supposed to like, “Oh, look at this.” So he’ll be kind of dismayed at this vision because I totally picked it up. But what about– so that’s all very entertainment driven and that’s great, but what about using the TV in maybe other ways? So, just for information because– I mean, there’s no reason– instead of a photo I might like pop-up a menu for take out and be like, “Okay, guys, there’s a menu, what do you want?”
Curtis Sasaki 06:47
I mean, we are seeing some pretty clever applications. I saw one where – I think it was Pizza Hut – where they actually have a timeline of when you place an order, like it’s in the oven, and it’s like, it’s now in a delivery truck.
Stacey Higginbotham 07:00
Is that– does that run on my TV now?
Curtis Sasaki 07:02
Well, I think that’s where it’s going to go, right?
Stacey Higginbotham 07:04
Okay, yeah, that make sense. So, and you guys have, like the Pandora app, you have a situation that you guys showed off where, I’m in the car, I’m listening to my music, I get inside and I’ve got a seven year old who’s Katy Perry is her god. So whenever that Roar song comes on, she’s like, “Let’s stay in the car. Let’s listen.” But now, with this, I could just be like, “Let’s go upstairs and we’ll finish it on the television.”
Curtis Sasaki 07:30
We showed an example with Pandora last week where, just as you said, you listen to Pandora in the car, before you exit the car the phone kind of picks up on it and knows what you’re listening to. And then, now when you’re sort of in front of your TV, the TV also knows that your phone is there, and your phone is sort of your ID as well. Basically, the music just continued playing on your TV through your audio system.
Stacey Higginbotham 07:53
So how do you do that? Like I don’t want to leave my TV on all the time, how does that work?
Curtis Sasaki 07:59
Well, I think there’s going to be applications where they can actually turn the TV on like in… so for example–
Stacey Higginbotham 08:07
Like in poltergeist?
Curtis Sasaki 08:08
Well, no, no, not poltergeist, that’d be a little bit too creepy. But we have now this contextual smart alarms on our devices, and rather than only sort of waking up on the phone with alarm or music, why can’t it turn your TV on and actually know it’s you waking up, so you like certain news, or you like a cooking show or whatever, you can certainly tune on to all those kinds of things.
Stacey Higginbotham 08:37
So, we’re supposed to be talking about software being the new black, so we’ll move from televisions and kind of into that software realm, but one of the things that’s very consistent across the Samsung ecosystem, and it is becoming an ecosystem, is these things all need to work together and the software is kind of the magic that’s holding it together, does that mean that you guys need you own version of the Play Store or iTunes?
Curtis Sasaki 09:06
Well, I think at the end of the day, Samsung is a very innovative company. If you look at our devices today, these support multiple Windows. You can run multiple applications at the same time. They also have this really cool smart pen here. And when consumers actually purchase these products, they really want applications that take advantage of it. So, how do they actually find the best applications? So, it’s more about making sure consumers have a great experience with their products, so having that store front really allows us to create the best sort of applications that take advantage of our futures. Then that ultimately does two things: It makes developers happy because they can get in front of a lot of our consumers. And B: It makes the consumers happy because you know those applications are optimized.
Stacey Higginbotham 09:59
So that exist today?
Curtis Sasaki 10:00
Yeah, yeah, sure is.
Stacey Higginbotham 10:02
How do I not know this? I have a Samsung phone. [chuckle] You guys, today, actually just mentioned that your – well, it was yesterday, I think – that your CFO talked about making more acquisitions and I know you’re in the design department, so maybe you don’t know much about that are– can’t really–
Curtis Sasaki 10:21
I don’t have checkbook.
Stacey Higginbotham 10:22
There you go, you don’t have a checkbook, but what kind of things should Samsung be thinking about? Like, what kind of company should Samsung be buying if software is the new black and you’re trying to–?
Curtis Sasaki 10:32
In Silicon Valley we actually have a pretty good presence of folks who are actually working with start-up companies already. We do investments in key companies, so that’s already been happening for a while now so it’s not new. I think, obviously, with any company, they look at both organic and inorganic ways to grow, so it’s a great opportunity.
Stacey Higginbotham 11:00
So then, there’s this tablet, there’s televisions, there’s appliances, you guys have all of these kind of– and there’s this idea that I can only buy Samsung to get this awesome experience, but once again, consumers don’t usually buy things that way. I think I have a Samsung washing machine and maybe even a drier, and I like the idea of it telling my Smartphone when it’s ready, that’s awesome.
Curtis Sasaki 11:27
I showed you last year.
Stacey Higginbotham 11:29
But I don’t have a Samsung refrigerator, so does that mean the fridge will never tell me via my phone that it needs more– I need more milk?
Curtis Sasaki 11:39
I think for us, we think we have to think about what the right use cases are across all these devices, and the fact that we actually make everything from microwave ovens to refrigerators to– I was telling you in the backstage about our vacuum cleaner with Wi-Fi and a webcam.
Stacey Higginbotham 11:58
I’m so getting one y’all.
Curtis Sasaki 12:02
It’s great that we have these products that are now connected to the net, but I think our job – and probably like a lot of your guy’s job out here – is to figure out how do you connect them together? And obviously from a Samsung perspective, we can do a lot because there’s parts that we should, but we also work– we have solutions that work not only on Samsung devices as well. Like, we have an application in here that allows you to find movies and TV shows. Well, we not only allow it to work with your Samsung TV but even our competitors TVs too.
Stacey Higginbotham 12:40
You were telling me actually backstage that you decided you wanted this and you actually added the IR reader– you added a whole new hardware feature to fit your design specs basically to work with other–
Curtis Sasaki 12:52
It was interesting because I think for a lot of us who watch TV and our ADD, we are noticing that just trying to find programs, something to watch, people were running the Netflix applications, searching in there, didn’t find something, go to Hulu, go to VUDU, and then they say, “Oh, I didn’t find anything there,” do the DIRECTV or XFINITY.” So we say, “There’s got to be a better way,” so we created this service that sort of sits above all of those. So now, we get– you can search across all of the services including your DIRECTV. You can get recommendations across all these different services, and you can do it on your TV alone. You can do it in your tablet, even in your phone. And because this idea was kind of resonated, we said: ‘Well, we have to control a lot of different set-top boxes,” and unfortunately a lot of set-top boxes are only IR. So, the great thing about Samsung is as we said, ‘Let’s put IR in our products,’ so even the Note 3 here has a small hole here that is infrared, so I can actually control all my TV stuff.
Stacey Higginbotham 14:05
So then, basically, the whole world or everyone with Samsung products will be watching Sharknado. [laughter] Because that will be trending no matter what, or the equivalent on whatever day that it’s happening. So, moving on to kind of with the software side and… how do you kind of– you’re talking about making investments in startups, but how do you make sure you find like the next instagram? Or how do you find these companies to partner with, or buy, or to crush like a bug – I have no idea – to– probably not that.
Curtis Sasaki 14:42
Crush like a bug? [crosstalk]
Stacey Higginbotham 14:43
Just copy– how about copy their business model. But… [laughter] Just of all the options, but how do you find and recognize these companies because in software it’s very hard in their definite network effects.
Curtis Sasaki 14:59
If I know– If I knew that magic I’d be a VC and I’ll be making a lot of money. I think in every case you have to look at the product first. You have to look at the experience, what problem they’re trying to solve, and then you got to look at the people, right? Do they have a track record? Do they… what are the people in the company?
Stacey Higginbotham 15:21
Well, I look at something like Snapchat, these guys, no track record. They’re apparently worth $4 billion, but there’s a lot like– I feel like there’s a lot of really exciting flashes in the pan. And as a hardware company, maybe trying to emphasize software more, figuring out where to put– and you guys have enormous resources, but still you have to decide what to focus on. Are there things that you look for or that you think would resonate as you’re kind of envisioning this ecosystem?
Curtis Sasaki 15:51
I think at the end of the day, this is all about creating great user experiences. I listen to Tesla and it’s all about the door knob, creating an amazing experience same as software. Software at the end of the day is really what consumers interact with. Hardware has to be beautiful, but it’s really about creating the right set of services that matter and the– we’re pretty relentlessly focus on making sure that we, innovating and be creative. Now, not everything we do is going to be is going to be a Snapchat or Homerun, but we’re fortunate enough where we can actually do a lots of different things and see if it gets attraction or not and keep evolving it.
Stacey Higginbotham 16:33
What devices are you most excited about bringing into a broader ecosystem? Because like tablets, and Smartphones, and watches, – Oh my! – but they all work together kind of seamlessly, but when you think about like washing machines and refrigerators, what kind of sparks your creativity or fun outside the core kind of, I guess, mobile gadget market?
Curtis Sasaki 16:57
Well, you’re speaking from my view personally. I mean, it was interesting, I actually got a chance to talk to some of the folks who’s working on a refrigerators, and they’re telling me about all the anthropologic studies they did over time and… But it’s interesting, the questions they ask I never thought of. Like, what do actually people buy and put into their refrigerator? And if you look at history, it was kind of this fresh food phase and it turned into a sort of prepared food, but the actual inside of the refrigerator never really changed. So, you kind of stuffed things in, trying to get the frozen pizza box.
Stacey Higginbotham 17:36
Oh no, you get that drawer?
Curtis Sasaki 17:37
But yes.
Stacey Higginbotham 17:38
I have a Samsung refrigerator–
Curtis Sasaki 17:39
There you go.
Stacey Higginbotham 17:39
— I just remembered.
Curtis Sasaki 17:40
But that was because you have to really think through how – in this case refrigerators – sort of change because of what people buy and what they actually put in it.
Stacey Higginbotham 17:52
But seeing, that’s not connectivity. The Sodastream which–
Curtis Sasaki 17:55
Well, we do have a connected refrigerators. We have some that actually have a beautiful color stream that will play your Pandora music–
Stacey Higginbotham 18:03
See, that’s not the connectivity I wanted for my fridge.
Curtis Sasaki 18:05
— that will actually give you recipes as well.
Stacey Higginbotham 18:08
All right. Well, we’re out of time and just as I got to my kitchen, my connected kitchen is big deal for me. Well, Curtis, thank you so much.
Curtis Sasaki 18:15
Thank you very much.

[applause]