How Samsung turned the king of CES and the place it is going subsequent
Lengthy earlier than Transformers director Michael Bay choked onstage at Samsung’s lavish CES 2014 press convention, the Korean firm was simply one other electronics outfit begging for consideration. However after many years at CES, Samsung is now the undisputed king of the present. Its blowout media occasions are the most important and most troublesome to get into. Samsung Electronics CEO BK Yoon is kicking off the present subsequent month by internet hosting the distinguished opening keynote. And it is one of many few tech giants left standing at CES, as Microsoft and others abandon it. Samsung’s superb rise mirrors its ascent within the cellular business, and it is also yet one more instance of the corporate’s oft-repeated method for fulfillment: Time, cash and perseverance result in victory.
A gaggle of Samsung staff placing collectively black-and-white TVs.
A Look Again
Samsung Electronics, the buyer know-how subsidiary of the seventy six-yr-previous Samsung conglomerate, was based in 1969. It is what we sometimes check with once we speak about Samsung (its dad or mum firm is concerned in drier enterprise like insurance coverage and petrochemicals). Samsung began out in house electronics by making black-and-white TVs and fridges through the ’70s. It did not waste any time ramping up its choices, although: It shortly expanded to paint televisions and microwaves later within the decade. Samsung additionally started exporting its wares and launched an American outpost in 1978 with worldwide enlargement in thoughts. A merger with the conglomerate’s semiconductor enterprise in 1988 additionally set the stage for Samsung Electronics to turn out to be the chip big we all know as we speak.
Quite than being a spot to launch its new units, CES was like a pageant that allowed Samsung to flaunt its shopper know-how power.
Like many know-how corporations hoping to make a splash within the ’80s, Samsung was a well-known presence at CES, the place it confirmed off newfangled merchandise like VCRs, projection TVs and desktop computer systems. Samsung produced its 20 millionth shade TV in 1989 and gained a little bit of fame a number of years earlier by creating the world’s smallest 4mm videotape recorder. All through the last decade, it made regular leaps in reminiscence know-how — it was the third firm on the planet to develop 64KB DRAM, and it launched the business’s first 256K DRAM chip in 1984. Samsung held onto that reminiscence momentum all through the ’90s, the place it was the primary to launch 64MB, 256MB and 512MB RAM chips. By 1992, it was the world’s largest reminiscence chip producer.
Samsung’s numerous product line in the course of the Nineteen Seventies.
Samsung continued to make loads of shopper gadgetry by means of the ’90s — its 10 CES Innovation Award winners in 1997 included a DVD participant, pc monitor and fax machine — however actually, it was a decade the place the corporate spent much more effort establishing itself as a element big. On prime of its improvements within the reminiscence market, Samsung developed its first LCD panel in 1995, created the world’s first 30-inch LCD display in 1997 and by 1998, it led the LCD market. That was lengthy earlier than LCD screens have been commonplace, nevertheless it definitely put Samsung in a cushty spot by the point that know-how invaded each display in our lives.
The HDTV period
Samsung was no stranger to CES, however the submit-2000 HDTV race gave the corporate one thing really spectacular to have attendees drool over: big TVs with resolutions far past what anybody had of their dwelling rooms. HDTV was one thing the CES crowd had been dreaming about for over a decade (it was a serious story in Wired‘s first concern in 1993), however with the daybreak of the brand new millennium, it was lastly inside attain. Like most different TV makers, Samsung confirmed off a variety of HDTV choices at CES all through the 2000s, together with LCD, plasma and DLP units. HDTVs have been the perfect new know-how for CES — it was the uncommon innovation that really lived as much as years of hype drummed up by the present, and it was so transformative it was value preventing the horrendous CES crowds to see.
Engadget editor Ben Gilbert takes in Samsung’s reworking, curved OLED HDTV.
Samsung’s foresight with LCD improvement ended up paying off in an enormous approach. On prime of turning into one of many main HDTV makers, the corporate additionally offered panels to loads of different corporations for televisions, computer systems and cellular units. Even Sony ended up hanging a cope with Samsung — in 2006 they shaped the joint firm S-LCD to make sure a gentle provide of huge LCD panels. Samsung ended up shopping for out Sony’s stake within the venture in late 2011, and it later rolled it up with its personal cellular show unit.
After greater than a decade within the highlight at CES, HDTVs aren’t going away anytime quickly. After the flop that was 3D TVs, now the CES crowd is specializing in 4K, sensible TVs and different gimmicks (like Samsung’s reworking, curved OLED TV above). At the moment, 4K units are surprisingly reasonably priced, and we’re lastly getting some 4K content material from Netflix and Amazon. It’s going to be fascinating to see if Samsung may give shoppers a cause to dump their present HDTVs. Samsung additionally demonstrated a big 8K set final January, which seemed so clear it was as if I used to be wanting by way of a window. That tech might by no means be appropriate for dwelling rooms, however I am hoping it is one thing we will see in theater projectors ultimately.
The cellular revolution
Samsung was already a participant within the cellular world lengthy earlier than the iPhone hit the scene, however with smartphones it had the chance to convey collectively all of its element smarts in a single gadget. And it in all probability helped that Samsung manufactured Apple’s iPhone processor (as much as and together with the A7 within the iPhone 5s). With its experience creating LCDs, reminiscence chips and processors, Samsung was in a much better place than some other firm to develop a real iPhone competitor. (Nokia might have been a contender, however… properly we all know how that turned out.)
With the announcement of the Galaxy S in March 2010, Samsung made it clear it needed to be an enormous deal in cellular. Notably, the corporate introduced the telephone on the CTIA convention that yr — not CES. However the Galaxy S, and certainly all of Samsung’s comply with-up units, have been an enormous a part of its CES presence over the next years. Slightly than being a spot to launch its new units, CES was like a pageant that allowed Samsung to flaunt its shopper know-how power.
Samsung’s “premium-designed” Galaxy Alpha.
Whereas the Galaxy S was a well-liked system for its time, Samsung’s grand plan to take over the cellular business actually received into gear with the Galaxy S II in 2011. It was a quicker and sleeker system, and it additionally constructed on the Galaxy S’ sensible multi-service technique within the US. The S II additionally pushed Samsung to turn out to be the world’s prime telephone maker in early 2012, unseating Nokia within the course of. By the point the Galaxy S III got here across the following yr, all the items have been in place for it to be a smash hit. It had a stunning four.eight-inch display, whereas the iPhone was nonetheless caught with a tiny three.5-inch show. And it packed in a few of the greatest specs we might ever seen in an Android telephone. Maybe most significantly, Samsung was capable of market the heck out of the factor. It was a strong Android telephone that did not simply attraction to geeks, which was a uncommon sight in these days.
As somebody who’s attended each CES since 2011, I’ve seen Samsung’s stature on the present develop first-hand. That yr featured one of many first really insane Samsung keynotes, which for some purpose starred a child from the longer term and an entire bunch of dancers. After that, the tech world shortly discovered to anticipate a little bit of zaniness from each Samsung occasion, typically within the type of random “comedy” and dance numbers. Samsung’s just like the ceaselessly awkward nerd who by accident obtained cool — regardless of how profitable it turns into, it’s going to all the time be a bit dorky. Naturally, it received harder to get into Samsung’s CES press conferences — I solely needed to wait round half-hour in line in 2011, however final yr it took over two hours.
Samsung’s just like the perpetually awkward nerd who by chance acquired cool — regardless of how profitable it turns into, it’s going to all the time be a bit dorky.
Neither Samsung nor the Shopper Electronics Affiliation (which organizes CES) would chat with us for this piece, so I haven’t got any arduous numbers to show its rise in reputation. However in my time on the present, I’ve seen nothing however bigger crowds at Samsung’s occasions. It additionally has one of many largest cubicles on the present, which is usually packed to the brim with all the things the corporate’s acquired cooking — telephones, tablets, big TVs and know-how we might not even see for years. Sony’s one of many few rivals with a equally sized CES sales space, however it’s not as densely crammed with gear. And once I strike up conversations with CES attendees, the dialog inevitably steers towards Samsung.
In fact, the Korean electronics big advantages when different corporations surrender on CES solely. Microsoft hasn’t had a sales space on the present since 2012, when then-CEO Steve Ballmer hosted his final opening keynote. And even when they’re current, loads of corporations are downgrading their cubicles and dramatically decreasing the quantity of individuals they ship to the present. It sometimes makes extra sense to announce information outdoors of the madness of CES — and when you can invite media to a managed surroundings of your personal, all the higher. Samsung’s one of many few corporations that may afford to have it each methods.
Samsung Electronics CEO and President BK Yoon.
The Street Forward
Samsung’s nonetheless holding onto its cellular throne, although its market share has been steadily slipping over the previous few quarters. Particularly, it is being threatened by Chinese language telephone makers like Huawei (which will probably be at CES) and Xiaomi (which will not). They’re creating highly effective telephones which are additionally surprisingly reasonably priced — one thing Samsung hasn’t but found out.
The problem for Samsung and each different IoT firm is determining a method to make related units appear extra than simply hype.
However the firm can also be wanting past cellular. Yoon (above) says his CES keynote will focus on the web of issues (IoT) and the way it will “unlock infinite prospects.” Samsung snapped up the IoT firm SmartThings final August, so it is doubtless planning a solution to repeat its cellular success with related units. Identical to HDTV, IoT is a type of issues CES presenters and attendees have been speaking about for years. However in contrast to HDTV, it isn’t clear but why mainstream shoppers want related units.
The problem for Samsung and each different IoT firm is determining a solution to make related units appear extra than simply hype. Nest and Quirky have been doing an honest job of promoting their wares to early adopters, however for IoT to succeed it’s going to have to attraction to everybody. And that’ll be a lot harder than simply getting individuals to purchase a shiny new telephone.
[Photos: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images (Samsung CES booth); Samsung Electronics]