by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
Samsung and LG are no strangers to the spotlight. For as long as anyone can remember, the two South Korean electronics giants have gone all-out to dazzle and impress audiences at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) convention every year. Smartphones, 4K (and even 8K) HD televisions, wearables, whatever it may be–Samsung and LG have always swung for the fences when it came to their devices.
But the 2015 CES had a remarkably different tone. For their respective press conferences before the convention began, Samsung and LG championed the “Internet of Things,” or IoT for short, as what the future of the industry would look like.
Yes, they still had their ridiculously beautiful televisions, appliances and curved smartphones, but discussion about the IoT took center stage.
“It is [arguably] the most important topic for our industry right now,” Yoon said during Samsung’s keynote address on Monday. “Many people believe that the IoT is something that is in the distant future. It’s not.”
LG’s president and CEO Skott Ahn called it a “key ingredient” in LG’s vision for the year ahead: Innovation for a Better Life.
“We live our life at home, at work, outside in the open and inside our cars,” Ahn said. “The true value of IoT lies in the innovation that is centered around our lives.”
Image courtesy of LG
Visiting their respective booths (more like fortresses) on the exhibition floor also showed more focus on the IoT. So, what is it exactly? The term has been thrown around in the tech industry for a few years now, but large companies haven’t made it their specific focus until really this year. The IoT is centered around the idea that not only smartphones and computers, but also everyday products and appliances are connected to the Internet and communicate with each other seamlessly.
The IoT puts everyone in the center of their own tech universe, as described by BK Yoon, Samsung’s President and CEO. Devices are equipped with sensors to learn about the individual’s lifestyle and are connected with one another to improve the unique living environment for the user.
LG’s presentation probably did the best job of breaking down the IoT into three main factors. First off, IoT platforms include smart devices and appliances. Open connectivity between devices, no matter what brand or operating system, is essential to create an “ecosystem” of platforms that seamlessly integrate. Sensors embedded in devices will constantly gather data from the user and communicate with each other to serve the user’s needs and improve his/her environment. Although this process of collecting data sounds complicated, the installation is supposedly easy.
“In other words,” Yoon explained, “we are bringing the physical and digital worlds together. … We don’t have to push buttons to activate them. Instead, these devices actively … protect us.”
The entrance to Samsung’s booth at CES 2015. Image via Samsung Tomorrow
Imagine waking up in the morning. Your wellness tracker observed your sleeping pattern during the night and woke you up at the optimal time. The thermostat adjusts itself to the proper temperature based on how cold or hot you are as the beautiful 4K television in your room automatically turns on to the morning news or ESPN. Or maybe, it’s your bluetooth speakers that greets you with your personalized playlist.
When you head out to work, your house locks itself down, and the robotic vacuum cleaner begins its rounds. Your car already knows to check the traffic conditions for your commute, and it has already turned on the engine and warmed up the driver’s seat. Maybe within the near future, the car will drive itself to work for you.
This is the tantalizing and exciting vision for consumers. The idea may sound far-fetched and eerily similar to the Disney Channel movie Smart House, but the IoT is a lot closer than people may think.
“It’s not science fiction anymore,” Yoon said. “It’s science fact. Actually, I would argue that the IoT has already started. But to unlock its benefits, we have to prove its worth in real life. The IoT, like all technology, has to measure up to people’s needs and expectations. It must be centered on humans and fit into their lifestyles.”
The potential scale of the Internet of Things. Image courtesy of Brussels Data Science Community
By 2017, Yoon forecasted, 90 percent of Samsung devices will be IoT-capable, and LG won’t be far off. No company would invest their future in the Internet of Things without having their own “things” to sell, and with the IoT still up for grabs, Samsung and LG seem eager to grab some real estate before other companies stake their claim.
In the bigger picture, the IoT will expand its data sharing capabilities that could affect communication, transportation, healthcare and managing energy usage. Business models in the tech industry now allow more room for collaboration and working across industry borders. Samsung and LG, for example, either acquired or worked with companies specializing in smart-home and automobile technology.
Increased connectivity and data, however, raise security concerns, and that will be one of the largest hurdles to clear for the IoT. Both Samsung and LG acknowledged the issue, and as the IoT continues to develop, data security and the protection of personal privacy will be concerns that the government will also need to address.
An even larger hurdle, perhaps, would be convincing consumers that the quality of their lives can improve by surrounding themselves with all these “things.” Do we need every single device we own to contain sensors and microprocessors? Are we comfortable with these sensors collecting data on us 24/7? Who’s in charge of storing and keeping the data?
When Apple unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, which now seems like an eternity ago, smartphones suddenly became not only accessible but also desirable to consumers, quickly making the device the ultimate symbol of cool. From that point onwards, the smartphone market took off. The Internet of Things might be the next big thing and an actual innovation for a truly better life. Someone may or may not come out with a product that changes the way we think about it. Who knows, maybe this time around it’ll be Samsung or LG leading the charge.