Given the smart home successes of Amazon, Apple, and Google, I’ve generally considered Samsung to be an also-ran in the consumer IoT space. Yes, I used Samsung SmartThings hardware and software to power my smart home in the past. Yes, it worked. But Samsung’s innovation levels seemed to lag and then it got out of the SmartThings hardware business. Based on what Samsung announced this week at its Samsung Developer Conference, however, I’m having second thoughts. Since leaving the smart home hub hardware business, Samsung is continuing to make all the right moves.
This week’s announcements illustrate the point.
For starters, Samsung reiterated that the SmartThings platform will officially support Matter, the application layer standard that will bring improved device interoperability. Essentially, Matter-compliant devices will work with other Matter devices across any supported smart home platform or voice assistant.
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise as Samsung is one of the founding members of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which is the new name for the original Zigbee Alliance effort, which developed Project CHIP, now known as Matter. Still, it’s nice to hear, considering Samsung, Apple and Google are touting Matter while Amazon has been silent on the matter, er… subject, until recently. This past weekend, Eero, owned by Amazon, said that it would support Matter.
And Samsung brings much to the table when it comes to the Matter standard. The company is integrating its SmartThings platform, and therefore Matter, into “Samsung’s Galaxy devices, televisions, and Family Hub appliances.”
While the big-three platforms certainly sell a large number of smart speakers and displays, Samsung sells an equally impressive number of Galaxy phones, televisions, and appliances. That can help quickly expand Matter support beyond the traditional speakers and displays, bringing a cohesive smart home experience to more consumers. Of course, that is dependent on Matter support for smart appliances, which are not currently part of the protocol specification. However, you should be able to control Matter devices from supported appliances, even without an updated Matter spec.
Speaking of smart speakers and displays reminds of Samsung’s digital assistant, Bixby. Here too the company appears behind its consumer IoT rivals. Let’s just say Bixby isn’t the most loved digital assistant out of the bunch. The company isn’t giving up on Bixby, however. Instead, it’s doubling down in an effort to improve the Bixby experience.
Leveraging what it has learned from having Bixby on more than 300 million Samsung devices, the company has implemented on-device AI and Natural Language Processing (NLP) with Bixby. That’s important for privacy reasons as well as for quicker voice interactions: Samsung says Bixby is now 35 percent faster on its newest devices.
The digital assistant is also the centerpiece of a new piece of the SmartThings puzzle: The Bixby Home Platform. Samsung introduced this news to developers so they can better connect voice commands with the SmartThings ecosystem. Samsung says with the Bixby Home Platform “voice commands can now be executed more intelligently, taking into account state and context of various devices.”
Along the same lines, Samsung reiterated news it first announced in August: SmartThings Edge will enable hub-connected devices to execute actions locally. Stacey rightly praised Samsung when this news first landed, saying “This shift puts Smartthings much more in line with some hardcore smart home automation platforms such as Home Assistant or HomeBridge.” Not only will DIY automation experiences improve, but those automations will still work, even if your home internet service is down.
Add it all up and you can see Samsung’s vision.
Without making its own smart home hardware, which is costly and not always profitable without subscription fees, Samsung is still very much a player in the smart home game.
With the compute capability in its phones, televisions, and appliances, it really doesn’t need to produce single-purpose smart home hubs. Instead, the company can use the chips inside its other product lines, along with an extra radio or two when needed, to connect consumers with their smart homes.
This also helps developers because they don’t have to modify or create software specifically for “Samsung’s” version of the smart home. Adoption of the Matter standard nullifies most of that time-intensive work while also expanding the potential audience for their respective brands, products, and services. And although I’m still not sold on talking to Bixby on a daily basis, Samsung is smartly advancing the capabilities of its digital assistant in ways that will benefit smart home owners.
I admit I had my doubts about SmartThings when Samsung hinted at getting out of the hardware business. However, the choices Samsung has made since then, punctuated by this week’s announcements, have given me a new perspective. Samsung SmartThings is here to stay.