Tech Transformers

How Samsung wants to control your home


Not content with playing a major role in people's lives by being the world's biggest smartphone player, Samsung also wants to be at the center of the home.

The South Korean electronics giant is looking to capitalize on the growing number of so-called "Internet of Things" (IoT) devices with a number of updated "smart home" product launches at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin.

It comes after Samsung last year acquired a company called SmartThings, which makes a hub that connects "smart" versions of everyday devices to the Internet.

"For Samsung it's a natural space because we have such a wide portfolio of products…with TVs and domestic appliances…so it's natural for us to see how we bring some of those devices together," Andy Griffiths, Samsung's U.K. president, told CNBC in an interview.

SmartThings unveiled its upgraded hub and sensors – including one to detect moisture, motion, and even whether doors are open and closed – in Berlin. The idea is that users buy the hub and put these sensors around the house. They will then get notifications on their phone when someone has entered the house, for example, or if there is excess water which could mean there is a leak.

The upgraded sensors are being rolled out in the U.S. and to the U.K. for the first time, and are expected to be released in Asia and Europe in 2016, as Samsung attempts to push quickly into the IoT space.

Samsung in the middle

It's certainly a booming area -- research firm Gartner expects the install base of IoT devices to jump from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 25 billion by 2020.

Samsung already produces smart appliances and TVs, and analysts said the move to expand its IoT division made sense.

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"They manufacture an almighty number of household and domestic products and connecting those up to make the home smarter is a fairly obvious step," Martin Garner, senior vice-president at CCS Insight, told CNBC by phone.

"Samsung would like to be in the middle of a large ecosystem of smart home devices and the SmartThings acquisition is a good way to go about it."

Open platform

But the South Korean titan is not alone in the space, with U.S. rivals also attempting to take advantage of the growing trend.

Google bought smart thermostat-maker Nest last year for $3.2 billion and this year announced a product called Brillo – an IoT operating system for connected devices. Amazon also released a hub last year called Echo, which controls devices in the house when users give it commands.

SmartThings claims to have an edge, however. Unlike its rivals, it's an open platform where developers can make apps for the system. Each app is essentially a function, so someone could download an app that turns the lights on as soon as they walk into a room, for example.

SmartThings claims to have "tens of thousands" of developers and over 50,000 apps.


For Samsung, pushing into the smart homes space could allow it to better understand customers and develop new products accordingly, analysts said.

"These IoT devices create eyes and ears of how the user behaves in real time. Samsung will be able to build different services and experiences around that," Bettina Tratz-Ryan, lead on IoT and smart cities at Gartner, told CNBC by phone.

Of course, this could raise concerns about data privacy and security. Many cybersecurity researchers have said that that IoT devices are at risk of being hacked, but Samsung said it has taken this into account.

"You got to take security very seriously, it's fundamental to us and what we do with SmartThings is no different. Security levels similar to a banking app, we monitor it, we get third party people to check it. It's absolutely key," Samsung's U.K.'s Griffiths added.