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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Biggest fear- buying into these new apps & toys, you might as well paint a target on your back saying: Here I am & here is everything you would ever want to know about me!
    What is wrong with the "techie tribe" that they do not fear such headlines as: "US and UK intelligence agencies reportedly crack technology used to encrypt internet services such as online banking, medical records and email."

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    How about household robotics? It's something that has only been in scifi novels since the 40's.... We want them! You just need to figure out how to make them cheaply, now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.


    I just watched the video and got a buzzword bingo full house.

    When Kazuo Hirai said "going forward" for the third time I hit the pause button and gave up. Lots of words but no content. I wonder if that's what it takes to become a company CEO.

    I'm at a standstill right now. I'll be going forward later.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    In your search for 'the next big thing' I don't think you should be looking at the screen, but inside the devices. We need a step change in battery technology to enable the next level of functionality in mobile devices. Until then I suspect we're pretty much at the limit of their capability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I choked really badly on an apple about 7 years ago. Never touched them since.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Great, I can touch my watch and order a pizza. Life changing technology?

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    I'm old enough to remember a long forgotten period of history when mankind had these primitive devices called 'phones' that only allowed you to make or take phone calls and these equally primitive devices called 'watches' that you could only use to tell the time, please don't laugh but these devices had no other function. How we managed to survive that Dark period in our history I will never know

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    "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."

    I'd rather scratch my eyeballs out.

    I like technology that improves the world not brainwashes it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    65. Graphis

    Apple defined nothing, I was using multimedia irivers and htc ppc's before apple even realised this was an area to expand into.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    You really have to ask yourself what is it about Samsung that makes RCJ loathe it so much. In the interview with Hirai his antipathy towards Samsung is clear for all to see.

    And what is it about Apple's iWatch that leads him to believe that it will 'define the market' in a way Galaxy Gear won't? The name? The logo?

    Typical partisan fanboyism from RCJ.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    It's just a matter of time before the machines take over the Earth and we are saved by John Connor. I'll be back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    53. _Ewan_
    "based on absolutely nothing."

    I dunno. Based on the fact the iPod defined the market for MP3 players, that the iPhone defined the market for smartphones, and that the iPad defined the market for tablets, maybe? Not the greatest deductive reasoning perhaps, but perfectly understandable. Rightly or wrongly, love 'em or hate 'em, that's still how it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    nobody wants a smart watch unless seiko bring back the tv watch.

    i think smart clothing has a better potential.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I don't see my comment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Yes and yes. Or what did you expect? At least Sony and Samsung have been more innovative that apple. The spyphone is basically the same as the first one, just with minor improvements. And the spyphone 5? Just one more line of icons? That's revolutionary? And ios7? That is just a theme. Wait! It's made by apple and the man that copies designs from Braun. Then that's innovation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    I bit into an apple today.

    Unfortunately, it was rotten to the core.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Seems a very long time since the last report, and surely there must be more at this show than two pointless products which have been in the news absolutely everywhere?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I would like a smart watch as a self-contained phone that also acted as an MP3 player paired with a Bluetooth stereo headset. Perfect for weekend wear to avoid the paranoia of loading your phone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I can see the point in a watch that can take pictures.People won`t know you`re taking one,but then it is a bit sneaky and impinges on privacy,but then again pointing a camera can cause trouble.
    Sonys lens idea also has merits-adding wireless gadgets to make smartphones more multi functional seems in principal to be a good idea.
    However these are both niche market products and won't sell millions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Until Bernard's watch is available on the market I'm not interested


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