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Analysis: Samsung CES 2015 keynote brings World's Fair vibe back to CES with loads of smart home tech and ideas


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Analysis: Samsung CES 2015 keynote brings World's Fair vibe back to CES with loads of smart home tech and ideas

Imagine waking up to your smart TV providing you a daily news brief and weather automatically - just by sitting up in bed. Or how about listening to a podcast through headphones on your commute only to have it pick up where you left off on a set of wireless speakers as you walk through your front door. Pretty cool, right?

Now, imagine that same TV telling you what should watch before bed, or a pair of smart glasses calling 911 for you after sensing "abnormal" brain activity. This is all a vision for the future, the very near future, that Samsung CEO B.K. Yoon evangelized during his CES 2015 keynote address, and it will be possible through the Internet of Things.

If you're unfamiliar, the Internet of Things, or IoT, is a movement in the tech space to create a personalized network of any and all ordinary objects-made-smart ones through three key things: sensors, processors and connectivity. And Samsung seems to be taking this opportunity more seriously than anyone.

Samsung CES 2015

Frankly, while Yoon didn't pull the curtain back on any shiny new gadget, he conjured up a strong World's Fair feeling that I haven't experienced during CES in a long time.

"We can't just talk about the Internet of Things like things, because it's personal, like a bedtime story," Yoon said. "It has the power to transform our society, our economy and improve our lives."

But through those same big picture ideas, it was tough not to feel a bit Orwellian walking out of the convention center, either.

Your Samsung future: always on, always connected

Yoon is on a mission, he told a few hundred journalists, analysts and tech enthusiasts in a massive Las Vegas conference hall, to have every Samsung product be a smart one. In fact, he promises just that in five years time: Samsung will be a 100% IoT company by 2020.

Samsung CES 2015

It works out for Samsung especially so, considering the Korean firm has its hands in nearly every kind of consumer tech imaginable. However, Yoon was keen to point out that he's not interesting in Samsung holding all the cards. He claims to want an open ecosystem through which any and all IoT devices can communicate.

That's part of the reason why Samsung has partnered with the likes of BMW to create platforms and apps for its devices to work with its smart cars, like the Samsung Gear S and an in-car tablet experience that BMW SVP Elmar Frickenstein revealed on stage as BMW Touch Command.

Samsung CES 2015

Samsung hasn't stopped there, recently acquiring cloud-based smart home tech startup SmartThings to further its vision. And with it comes partnerships with dozens of IoT companies ready to hop on board.

But thankfully, Samsung doesn't seem to have horse blinders on regarding our connected future. The company claims to be looking at this from every angle, realizing that there are still many questions that need definitive answers before IoT truly takes off.

Even a connected toaster could be deadly in the wrong hands

That's where President of the Foundation of Economic Trends Jeremy Rifkin comes in. Rifkin helped the audience come down off of Yoon's Jetsons-like high with a sobering message.

"Closing off avenues to this technology goes against the capability of the system," Rifkin said, alluding to the much-needed rancor surrounding issues like net neutrality. "Making sure no one is discriminated against is crucial to the success of the Internet of Things."

Samsung CES 2015

Rifkin also expressed concerns that everyone in the audience was likely feeling: security and privacy. We've all seen how movies like 2001: Space Odyssey and Minority Report turned out.

"We need to ensure a common set of codes, regulations and standards for interoperability in an open system," Rifkin warned. "We need to build resiliency and redundancy into the IoT system to safeguard against disruption and destruction."

It's an honorable position, and a necessary one, but knowing that anything and everything Internet-connected can and will be hacked, this will be a neverending battle. And when your doors, windows and other household items are at stake, we'll all likely be at the center of it.

IoT could turn into Big Brother, but that's up to us

But before even worrying about security, more conversations need to happen regarding exactly how far down this rabbit hole we want to go. Jawbone CEO Hossain Rahman talked at length about what will be possible in the age of IoT on the Samsung keynote stage.

Namely, Rahman talked of how biometrics through fitness trackers could extend from exercise out to tracking how the media we consume affects our sleep health. It's scenarios like this that are bound to be divisive for consumers, but Rahman was keen to alleviate those concerns. "It's not just about the data. It's about getting the results that people want," Rahman said.

Samsung CES 2015

And that's exactly right. The Internet of Things will only be as powerful as we, the consumers, allow it be. No one is forcing IoT upon us, and that's the beauty of it: we have the power to shape exactly what IoT becomes and how deeply it affects our lives by simply voting with our dollar.

Samsung's Jetsons dreams will soon come true

Yoon wasn't all talk during his keynote, hinting at real work that's being done within Samsung to make IoT a reality right now.

"We are working on a sensor that can detect up to 20 different smells," Yoon teased of Samsung's ePOP and Bio Processors. "We also are working on three dimensional sensors that can detect the tiniest of movements."

Of course, that's in addition to Samsung's new smart TVs, omnidirectional smart speakers and it's Gear S smartwatch integration with BMW cars. "All of this technology is something that will be available later this year," Yoon teased.

"I've analyzed every turn since I was a young engineer, but every change is nothing compared to what is to come ahead."

The Internet of Things raises more questions now than it provides solutions. Now, it's up to companies like Samsung and organizations like the Foundation of Economic Trends to come up with the answers along with the technology.






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