Samsung and Sony - searching for a new frontier


Sony chief executive Kazuo Hirai speaks to the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones.

Do you get excited by yet another new touchscreen smartphone? Does the latest all-singing all-dancing tablet grab your attention?

Unless you are a dedicated technophile, I imagine the answer is no. And that is why the major technology firms are now on the hunt for new kinds of gadget to whet the jaded appetites of consumers.

As Berlin's IFA consumer electronics show gets under way, we have already seen two firms, Samsung and Sony, trying to stake out new territory with products that look different.

By unveiling the Samsung Gear smartwatch in a vast arena with an orchestra and a live link to New York's Times Square, the Korean firm was not going for a low-key debut for its new product category.

There are some cool things about the watch - raise it to your ear and it knows you want to make a call, swipe across its face and it is ready to take a photo from the camera in the strap. A clutch of well-known apps are already on board, and leading developers are preparing more.

Rory Cellan Jones scrutinises the Samsung Gear

But after the initial "Ooh"s and "Aah"s from the audience, serious doubts quickly emerged. The Gear is not a stand-alone device, but a smartphone accessory - and one that right now works with only one phone, Samsung's Galaxy Note. So, an expensive toy, and one that will need charging every day.

Beyond a minority of tech enthusiasts, it is hard to see a huge market for this product, especially when other smartwatches which work with a whole range of phones are already out there. But Samsung will be happy to have beaten Apple to the punch - its iWatch may end up defining this new market, but at the moment it is no more than a rumour.

Sony, with a somewhat less lavish press event, still wanted to give the world something new. Its offering - stand-alone lenses that connect to a smartphone via wifi - seeks to redefine the mobile photography experience. The idea is that they add some of the quality of a digital SLR camera to the convenience of smartphone photography.

Sony Lens - a portable lens which attaches to a smartphone Sony's offering: a stand-alone lens which connects to a smartphone

Sony's engineering prowess is in no doubt, and the demo in Berlin looked very impressive. But how many people are going to want to carry another quite bulky product with them along with their smartphone? This looks like another product hunting down an audience that just might not be there.

Under its new leader, Kazuo Hirai, Sony seems to have got some of its mojo back, but it is still searching for the new Walkman - a product that will redefine what we expect from technology.

Sony and Samsung also launched impressive new phones - the Xperia Z1 and the latest version of the Phablet, the Galaxy Note 3. But, with profit margins from smartphones now being squeezed, the tech giants are restlessly scanning the horizon for the next big thing. So far, it has yet to emerge in Berlin, but I will let you know if I spot it.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Could your Apple bias be any more obvious Rory?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Another load of old expensive tosh that will end up unused in the back of a drawer somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    7.B_Jake "I work in the technology industry and can recognize the benefits of such technology."

    So you are not unbiased then - your livelihood depends on selling unwanted cack to punters. So how do you expect to be taken seriously?

    I've been flogging kit for over 40 years - the stuff that sells is the stuff that does things punters find useful.

    Reinventing wheels that are less functional -no!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    You would strap an electronic device around your wrist that tracks your every move?

    That's how we treat prisoners.

    "So This Is How Liberty Dies...With Thunderous Applause" - Padmé Amidala (Revenge of the Sith).

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    The idea of having to carry around a lens for my smart phone puts me off straight away. Have enough issues with having to carry the headphones.

    The watch is too small to be a useful touchscreen.
    If they had made it so the screen wrapped around the wrist a bit more, like a bangle it would be more appealing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Wearable tech is an exciting leap forward. However, a price point of £299 is just crazy. I'll be first in line for a cybernetic implant, but I believe that Samsung may have over-stepped the mark a little here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I want a smartwatch. But I want a smartwatch that looks like a normal watch that normal people would wear and has a price tag that reflects it's a supplementary device, as opposed to a price comparable to a standalone smartphone.
    Despite things such as pebble, and Sony's earlier smart watches, the new wave released at IFA still all seem like first-gen technology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I hope Apple doesn't do an iWatch. I have been using a watch for years, and when Apple gain patents for a "wrist compatible device that renders the number of seconds since the start of the day in a 60-based segmented format" no-one will be able to sell watched apart from Apple :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    One suspects that in the long-term the more significant annoucement yesterday was that by Qualcomm of the "Toq", showing OEMs that Qualcomm can provide any and of the necessary components for wearable devices with a longer battery life.

    That ought to lower the cost of entry, allowing these to become genuine fashion items.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    hmmm The Luddites will be out in force here.

    I work in the technology industry and can recognize the benefits of such technology.

    Start thinking out of the box and you will see that this is a stepping stone for future tech, yes its been out before but we need a company big enough to jump-start the process for future developments

    Samsung is big enough to do this, whereas Sony is a dead company

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I think this is fantastic technology. I have been waiting for many years for DECENT quality wearable tech.

    So it needs a handset to pair with?, I don't see that as an issue considering its a new device. Perhaps Samsung are gambling on demand, more demand may mean a dedicated device is created, thus eliminating the need for a handset.

    Brilliant tech! Roll on Google Glasses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Why would I want to spend hundreds of pounds on something that does less than my phone?

    Samsung have done this only to be able to say they were first, and that if Apple ever do a smart watch, Samsung can say Apple copied them. Unless Apple can add some serious 'wow factor' I remain distinctly underwhelmed by the whole concept of a smart watch. Apple would be better off passing over this one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    "its [Apple's] iWatch may end up defining this new market" - enough of the pro-Apple bias, please!! You looked very dismissive of the entire concept in that video Rory, but I bet if it was an iWatch event you'd've been all "wow, that's amazing!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    "another product hunting down an audience"

    I recall seeing my first microwave oven. The owner made cheese on toast in 30 seconds. The cheese melted, the bread got hot and limp but didn't toast. My Mum looked perplexed, couldn't see the point of it.

    The microwave certainly wasn't the answer to pent up demand, and didn't even demo very well. But that is the way to genuine innovation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Just like a lot of 'tech' this has no target audience - I mean I have a watch that never needs a battery, or winding up. It is compact, light and easy to tell the time with.

    If I want all the things this phone does and many more I would have a device with several days power and also acts as a computer.... Oh I already have one of those too.

    Who is going to want to charge their watch every night?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    are we back to having to press a button to see the time?


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