Company / division: Samsung
Samsung Reportedly Working on Bixby-Powered Home Speaker (Jul 5, 2017)
Samsung Announces IoT-Optimized Exynos processor (Jun 23, 2017)
Samsung announced its Connect Home mesh WiFi and smart home hub product alongside the new Galaxy S8 phones in March, but didn’t provide pricing or availability, something it’s now done. It will go on sale on Sunday at Best Buy and then become available more broadly in mid July, and will cost $170 for a single unit and three for $380, with a higher-throughput Pro version available for $250 per unit. The pricing is comparable with the many mesh WiFi solutions that have emerged in recent years, but the big difference is the SmartThings integration, which would normally involve a separate purchase. I’ll wait until reviews are available to judge it beyond that, but as I mentioned in the comment linked above back in March, it’s good to see Samsung finally starting to tie together its SmartThings and smartphone businesses, and I look forward to seeing whether that helps SmartThings get more traction in the market. The pure mesh WiFi space is certainly crowded enough already.
Samsung’s Bixby Further Delayed in US to End of June (May 31, 2017)
Samsung Announces Windows Convertible With S Pen Stylus (May 30, 2017)
Samsung Surface Competitor Gets Poor Reviews (May 26, 2017)
92% of US iPhone Users Plan to Buy Another (May 19, 2017)
We’ve seen some of these stats before, and they bounce around a little from survey to survey, but it’s always good as a reminder of just what makes the iPhone installed base so valuable: the combination of very high loyalty to the platform and the ability to sell a variety of other devices and services to iPhone users. This Morgan Stanley survey released this week says that 92% of current iPhone owners plan to stick with the iPhone when they buy their next smartphone, among the highest levels MS has seen, while Samsung comes second at 77% and other Android vendors score considerably lower. That means that even if smartphone upgrade cycles are lengthening, nearly all of the 100 million or so US iPhone users will eventually buy another, many of them likely this fall with what’s expected to be a big upgrade. With iPhones roughly two thirds of Apple revenue, that’s already tremendously important to its future prospects, but the other key part of this is that those iPhone buyers are likely to buy apps and content from the App and iTunes stores, subscribe to Apple Music, iCloud storage, and so on, and also buy other Apple devices like Watches, iPads and Macs. One of the challenges Apple faces, conversely, is that this loyalty rate isn’t as high in every country, with China one notable exception. Though I’ve only seen one survey referenced on this topic, and I’n not convinced the absolute numbers are right, it certainly seems to be the case that iPhone loyalty has been lower in China recently, with at least some iPhone owners shifting down to a cheaper Android phone from rising stars Oppo and Vivo. If Apple can turn that trend around with this fall’s phones, of course, that could lead to a massive rebound in growth in China.
Though Google spent much of its I/O keynote talking about apps and features like Photos and the Assistant, it did devote a few minutes to the topic of AR and VR, which will have a second deeper-dive keynote of their own tomorrow. On the VR side, the key announcement is that Google is extending the Daydream platform beyond mobile VR to standalone headsets, which in the first instance will be built by partners Lenovo and HTC and supported with chips from Qualcomm. Daydream so far has been limited by the fact that the biggest Android smartphone vendor has its own competing platform, so the news that Samsung’s Galaxy S8 phones will support Daydream through a software update in the summer is a big deal. My guess is that Samsung will still favor its own Gear VR system with its usual bundling and discounting deals, but the fact that Daydream View and other compatible headsets will now work with Samsung devices should increase its appeal. Daydream’s system is better than Samsung’s in a number of ways, though the recent Gear VR update closes the gap a bit, so the playing field should be a leveled a little going forward. Also worth noting are a couple of AR announcements, including a new “Tango phone” to support Google’s indoor mapping technology, and VPS, an indoor equivalent of GPS which will enable precise directions within large stores and the like. Neither of those feels remotely mass market yet, which means Google’s AR efforts are far more marginal than the phone-based efforts from Facebook and Snapchat (and likely soon Apple too). Interestingly, VR head Clay Bavor outlined his vision for the space in a blog post today too, and it’s remarkably similar to Microsoft’s in that it envisions a continuum or spectrum that includes both VR and AR, though Bavor’s favored term is immersive computing rather than mixed reality and he’s less pejorative about the VR and AR terms everyone is already using.
Strategy Analytics Says Apple Top Wearables Vendor in Q1 (May 8, 2017)
Back in December, Microsoft announced its equivalent of Amazon’s Alexa platform for third parties in the form of its Cortana Skills Kit and Cortana Devices SDK. A week later, Harman Kardon announced its was working on a speaker that would feature Cortana, and said it would launch in 2017. Five months later, the two companies have provided a name (Invoke), pictures, and some capabilities for the device, but there’s still no specific launch date (beyond “Fall 2017”) or pricing. On paper, the Invoke looks a lot like Echo in both its design and its capabilities (it even has an Echo-like 7-mic array), and the main difference is that it will do Skype voice calls, which is something that’s been rumored for both Echo and Google Home but isn’t yet supported by either. One advantage Harman would have over Amazon or Google in this space is that it’s a speaker maker, so it may well have better audio quality in its version than those companies have in theirs, something that’s been a shortcoming in this category so far. And of course, it’s interesting given Samsung’s ownership of Harman Kardon that this speaker is running neither of the assistants Samsung itself supports – its own new Bixby assistant or the Google Assistant – though this partnership obviously began before the Samsung acquisition closed. Pricing is an interesting question: whereas Google and Amazon both have broader ecosystems which benefit from such a device and therefore justify subsidizing or selling it at cost, Harman obviously needs to make money on it, so it may end up being priced higher (as Apple’s version likely will be too). Lastly, we might see other ecosystem devices using Cortana announced at Microsoft’s Build developer conference this week.
IDC Says Q1 Tablet Shipments Were Down 8.5% Year on Year (May 5, 2017)
Counterpoint Says Apple has 80% Share of Premium Smartphones in China Despite Overall Fall (May 4, 2017)
Counterpoint, which I’ve referenced previously here as a solid source on smartphone market share and so on, especially in Asian markets, has an update on Q1 smartphone performance in China. The headline is that Apple, Xiaomi, and especially Samsung saw their shipments drop significantly year on year, while local companies Oppo, Vivo, and Huawei did better, in a market that grew just 4% year on year. The Apple drop is worth noting because China performance has been a major talking point on its recent earnings calls (including this week) and there are lots of explanations flying around about why it’s struggling there. I linked to this piece a while back, and Ben Thompson had an interesting piece this week on Stratechery about the role WeChat plays in China and how that impacts Apple. But it’s worth noting the details on the premium market in China in this Counterpoint post. It argues that Apple’s performance in China (as elsewhere) is highly cyclical, but that it consistently takes 80% of the $600+ market. In other words, Apple’s share remains very strong in the segment where it competes, but much of the activity in China is at lower levels where Apple doesn’t compete. In that sense, there’s nothing new here, and the growth of the sub-premium segments is to be expected in a maturing market that’s reaching lower income tiers of the population. But if the premium segment is actually shrinking in real terms rather than just relative terms, that’s more problematic because it would indicate consumers who could afford iPhones are nonetheless choosing to buy the cheaper alternatives. So far, I’ve seen little evidence of that, but it’s worth watching future numbers from Counterpoint and elsewhere to see if that pattern starts to emerge. For now, I’m still more inclined to read what’s happening in China as part of a cycle which is already starting to correct and should do so more meaningfully later this year.