At the end of Samsung’s Unpacked event on Thursday, president and CEO DJ Koh offered an unusual confession: “It’s not easy every year, frankly speaking.”
No, it isn’t.
Trying to create constant excitement where there’s not too much to be had is a little like being the substitute clown at a children’s tea party.
Yet if there’s one message that coursed through the whole of Samsung’s presentation, it wasn’t the Note 9. It wasn’t, in fact, any one gadget.
Instead, it was the sudden embrace of seamlessness.
That was the word used by Koh.
It was an admission that, despite Samsung’s criticisms of Apple as a serial incompetent and hoodwinker, Cupertino may have been onto something all those years with its devices actually working in a touching harmony.
Ensuring that your gadgets all work simply and easily with each other is something that people actually want more than most things.
As it is with relationships, so it is with phones and speakers.
Look over there, Samsung has a smartwatch. Look over here, it also now has Galaxy Home which has the blessed attribute of at least looking prettier than Google Home or Amazon Echo, both of which are to pulchritude what politicians are to verisimilitude.
Koh still managed to offer a little covert stab at Apple. Because, I imagine, he couldn’t help himself.
“Today, too many companies create experiences that are devices to reinforce their business models than enhance your lives,” he said. “At Samsung, we are committed to meaningful innovation that puts you first.”
I might think I’ve heard such a concept before, many years ago and repeated every year since by the same people.
You, though, might merely sniff that there’s truth here.
Almost every phone store employee tells me they have a Samsung because they can personalize it, something not so available on the iPhone.
I’m not sure, though, how much Samsung has put you first when it’s been passing so much of your information to Google via Android. Google hasn’t exactly exhibited a penchant for privacy.
Indeed, Samsung now knows it relied on Android for a little too long. That’s why it’s pushing its own artificial assistant, the charmingly named Bixby.
And wait, what’s this I thought I heard? Samsung’s new three-legged friend — Galaxy Home — only works with Bixby?
“There are too many gaps, too many blind spots, too many services are confined by the limits of a device, brand or what platform,” Koh said in his speech.
Hey, Bixby, what do you think of that?
Looking back, Steve Jobs only looks more remarkable.
While the technologically-absorbed nerds who created rival devices thought they could blind with specs, he observed one simple truth: the most important element was making gadgets work for human beings, not the other way around.
Oh, it was a struggle alright. And Apple couldn’t do it well every year. Ultimately, though, Jobs wanted humans to think less about gadgets and feel more about them.
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It worked quite well. Or, at least, Jobs managed to persuade people that Apple’s spirit and theirs was compatible.
It’s rarely been difficult to make one Apple device work with another — although lately the dangling of the dongle has brought many humans to tinges of despair. Of course, making Apple devices work well with someone else’s, ah, now that’s always been more difficult.
Perhaps the increasing strains of holding onto at least some human-friendly simplicity in a painfully complicated world is why Apple’s never made a fridge. Or a washing machine. Or a car, for that matter.
Apple’s always been a little slow about branching out toward areas in which it can’t deliver an Apple-level experience to real human beings.
Koh’s company may ultimately succeed in somehow being the hub of all things and the BFF to all peoples. It’s already made fine strides in being Apple’s only true competitor in many areas.
But putting people first is hard when it’s not been in your bones from the beginning.
Doing it every year is even harder.