What's the Dominant Company at CES This Year?
If you had to pick one dominant company at the Consumer Electronics Show these days, it would have to be Samsung.
Smartphones are the single most important product category in the electronics space, and Samsung is the world leader with its line of Android phones. And then of course there are TVs -- Samsung is the leading manufacturer of LCD panels, which are the key component driving TV prices.
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With those two points of leverage, Samsung has been giving competitors nightmares. At this CES, though, Samsung executives have also begun to hint at larger ambitions. They'd like to build on their lead in phones and TVs to build a stronger brand in home appliances, PCs, even connected cameras.
I had a chat with Tim Baxter, president of the consumer electronics division at Samsung Electronics America. He said Samsung is trying to bring its knowledge of touch and gestures -- technology that makes mobile devices easier to use -- and infuse it in TVs and washing machines.
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He also sounded a very practical note on TV technology. While many competitors are touting OLED and 4KTVs as being right around the corner -- "4K isn't the future, it's today" was a key line in Sony's press conference -- Baxter says neither OLED nor 4K is going to drive TV-buying habits anytime soon.
It's going to be software. "That, we think, is an important part of changing the experience of the television, and in many ways injecting the 'wow' back into the entertainment experience."
OLED, Baxter says, is the next hardware technology likely to go mainstream -- that technology allows thinner, brighter displays with high contrast. It's still expensive -- LG is promoting a 55" OLED for $10,000 -- but the price could conceivably come down.
The situation with 4K, Baxter says, is more complicated. TVs with four times the resolution of HD are great in theory, but there's very little content available that would make consumers want to pay a 6-10x premium for a cutting-edge set. (An 84-inch 4K set from LG or Sony will now set you back $20,000 - $25,000.)
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Given that 60" 1080p HDTVs this holiday season were selling for as little as $1,000, Baxter is probably right. Samsung, LG, Panasonic and Sony all have smart TV platforms that allow users to do tricks like search for TV and movies by voice, or get personalized recommendations.
If Samsung can convince consumers to buy into its software vision before Apple and Google up their TV game, it might just help them do in TVs what they've already done in phones.