Samsung is continuing to build its own ecosystem of devices, rolling out its first smart speaker and a new smartwatch alongside the next generation of the Galaxy Note series smartphone.
At its semiannual Unpacked event today, the South Korean powerhouse took over Barclays Center in Brooklyn to unveil the Note 9, touting a larger battery, slightly larger 6.4-inch phone and an improved stylus—the S Pen, which allows users to take selfies and manage presentations.
The Note 9 will be available on Aug. 24 and come in four colors—blue, lavender, copper and black. However, only two of those—blue and lavender—will be available in the U.S.
The device also comes with an improved camera, which can identify objects and settings to adjust the light. There will also be much needed improvements to Bixby, Samsung’s smart assistant, which will now be able to act more like Apple’s Siri by ordering Ubers, reserving restaurants and ordering concert tickets. (Bixby, which debuted along with the Samsung Galaxy S7 phone in March 2017, has been often criticized for being inferior to the other smart assistants.)
“We still live in a world of digital devices and destructive experiences,” Samsung Mobile CEO DJ Koh said. “There are too many gaps, too many blind spots, too many services are confined by the limits of a device, brand or what platform. Too many experiences are interrupted when we leave a room … Too often our devices fail when we need them the most.”
Samsung has made significant changes in its brand perception since its 2016 crisis, when the batteries in the Galaxy Note 7 began catching fire, forcing the company to make improvements to both its batteries and in consumer trust.
According to YouGov, Samsung topped the list of brands with the most improved health—beating out Amazon’s Alexa, Target, Walmart and Bank of America. (Rankings were based on six metrics: impression, value, quality, reputation, satisfaction and recommendation.)
The brand has also been aiming its marketing directly at Apple. Various ad campaigns directly point out key differences in features such as headphone jacks, or points of ridicule for Apple—such as the notch on the Apple X.
However, as Samsung catches up—and in some places surpasses—Apple’s own suite of phones, it might become more about how they’re marketed and where they’re available. According to a recent report from Gartner, Samsung has been focusing more on increased search visibility across Google properties and various ecommerce websites. Samsung also has the strongest brand index on Amazon, increasing 10 percentage points in the past year along with a three percent increase in ownership.
Samsung also revealed several new partners to go along with its new devices. To announce the Android version of the popular melee game Fortnite, Samsung brought on stage Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Fortnite maker Epic Games.
Later on, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek provided more details about how the streaming music platform will be the defacto music partner across all Samsung devices. For example, through the Spotify partnership, a song will follow a user from the car to the home with the press of a button.
“We examined how people use Spotify, and we know that listeners stream different types of music at different times and at different places and most importantly on different devices,” Ek said. “And we think music should be easy to access on all of your devices, and we want it to be as seamless to switch from one device to another.”
While Samsung spent the majority of its event talking about the new phone, the biggest announcement came at the end, when the company announced its first smart speaker, the Galaxy Home. To unveil Samsung’s answer to the Apple HomePod and Google Home, Samsung staffers rolled 160 of them onto the main floor at Barclays Center—a prime venue for athletes, musicians and devices alike—and used the moment to fill the room with sound from the speakers.
During his opening remarks, Koh touted Samsung’s more than 1 billion devices, promising a Samsung ecosystem spanning from the phone to the fridge.
“Today, too many companies create experiences that are devices to reinforce their business models than enhance your lives,” Koh said. “At samsung, we are committee to meaningful innovation that puts you first.”
However, there seemed to be a bit of unintentional irony in the statement. The company touted the importance of privacy—even though its Android operating system provides countless data to Google. Also, while many people criticize Apple for having a closed ecosystem, Samsung’s new speaker only uses Bixby, rather than Google Assistant, like the smart speaker already on the market from Sonos.
The aesthetic of the Galaxy Home is both different and familiar when compared to the smart speakers that have come before it. Its soft black case is supported by three short, stout, metal legs. The device, which will have tuning from AKG, will also include a built-in subwoofer, speakers all around it and the ability to track where a person is within a room to provide the most optimal sound.
And of course, it will be powered by Bixby, creating yet another way for Samsung’s own voice AI to take directions from its user. Samsung didn’t reveal much else, other than to say more details will be available at the company’s developer conference in November. That leaves the question: Will it be released in time for the holiday shopping season?