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Samsung enters smart home market with array of gadgets

Gizmos include prototype augmented reality glasses, new Galaxy Home Mini smart speaker

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In delivering the CES keynote address, Mr Kim expects smart speakers and robots to become major products.

Seoul

SAMSUNG Electronics Co kicked off 2020 with an array of gadgets from prototype augmented reality (AR) glasses to a new smart speaker that the company hopes will kickstart a fresh foray into the crowded smart home arena.

The world's biggest home appliance maker set out its latest Internet of Things strategy, describing it as an "Age of Experience", at the CES 2020 technology conference in Las Vegas. It will span everything from individual care to the connected home and smart cities in the next decade. At the heart of Samsung's new smart home push will be the Galaxy Home Mini smart speaker, which the company plans to release in early 2020, said Kim Hyun Suk, chief executive officer of Samsung's consumer electronics division.

"We need to rethink the space we have to accommodate our diverse and evolving lifestyles and generations," he said during the opening CES keynote address. Along with artificial intelligence (AI) driven concept products such as the Ballie rolling bot, Samsung also showcased tech solutions for visually impaired and disabled people under the broad banner of technology enhancing people's lives.

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The Galaxy Home Mini comes years after Google's Home and Amazon.com Inc's Echo smart speakers - and nearly 18 months after Samsung's promised but never released Galaxy Home - but the South Korean giant believes that it can build a unique ecosystem around the Mini by making it the best controlling device for the home gadgets and appliances that bear its brand.

Powered by Bixby, Samsung's answer to digital assistants such as Apple Inc's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, Samsung's offering will focus on making home appliances execute voice commands rather than attempting a conversation based on artificial intelligence trained on reams of Internet user data. Acknowledging negative chatter about Bixby lagging the field, Mr Kim said that orchestrating a smooth question-and-answer exchange was not his priority, while the focus on hardware over user information means better consumer privacy.

"Samsung will remain a hardware company, forever," said Mr Kim, who is testing the Galaxy Home Mini in his own abode, connecting it to 63 devices that include his curtains, lighting and third-party gadgets. Appliances linked to the Mini will be able to carry out orders such as scheduling when the dishwasher should run, or making sure that the washer's rinse cycle is complete before the user gets home.

"It's not about when we release the product, but it's more crucial how much further we can evolve the technology. No other speaker in the world can control gadgets as much as Samsung can," he said.

Like Amazon and Google's home ecosystem ventures, Samsung sees the Mini acting as the hub connecting all its present and future AI-embedded hardware. That would encompass any devices connected through its SmartThings app as well as gadget rivals' products linked via infrared hook-ups.

With plateauing smartphone and personal computer sales, voice-based computing is among the biggest growth opportunities remaining in the tech industry - and the home is where some of the earliest consumer adoption is happening. Forrester Research Inc expects the market for smart home devices to expand 26 per cent a year between 2018 and 2023. Samsung's own home Internet of Things (IoT) business grew 10-fold in 2019 from the previous year, mainly thanks to South Korea, the US and Saudi Arabia, according to Koo Sunggy, head of the business at Samsung.

Wearable technology is another big area of focus for growth-starved companies, and Samsung's latest effort is a teaser for its own AR glasses, seeking to succeed where Google Glass failed. The company is working to minimise dizziness, said Mr Kim, which is the key to making the glasses as small as possible. Apple and Facebook Inc are both working on AR glasses of their own, Bloomberg News reported, and Microsoft Corp offers the HoloLens headset.

The original Galaxy Home speaker that was announced in the middle of 2018 never materialised. Samsung has yet to make a final decision as to whether to sell the bigger smart speaker while it focuses on the more compact Mini. But it is also working on peripheral gadgets in the interim, including the Ballie - a companion robot in the vein of Sony Corp's Aibo that rolls around like BB-8 in Star Wars. Mr Kim expects both smart speakers and mobile robots to become major products in the consumer electronics market, offering a variety of services tailored to pet, child and elderly care.

"Eventually, I hope there is no interaction between humans and technology," Samsung home IoT chief Mr Koo said with respect to what the smart home may look like in 2030. Devices will anticipate people's needs and offer services based on data collected from in-house appliances, he said. "At least within the boundary of smart homes, technology development will head toward touch-less and voice-less." BLOOMBERG