These days, every tech giant of note is staking a claim in the smart home, and Samsung’s no exception. In April, the company imagined a universe of smart-home appliances and devices hooking to its smart TVs and apps for automation and control.
Now it appears to be rethinking this approach. The South Korean tech giant is reportedly negotiating to buy SmartThings, according to TechCrunch. SmartThings, a Kickstarter-backed project to connect your home devices together, makes a hub that talks over various network protocols so you don’t have to worry about whether individual devices are compatible with each other or with your phones and tablets.
Such a deal would make perfect sense—for Samsung. And yet, I can’t help but feel some dread over this prospect. Here’s why.
Sammy Needs To Bring Some Smarts Home
Samsung’s peers in the tech industry have all been very plain about their intentions toward wiring up our homes recently.
This summer, Apple announced plans to rally connected home devices under its new iPhone-friendly HomeKit protocol. Earlier this year, Google picked up Nest, which has been busy buying Dropcam, another smart-home device maker, and creating its own home-networking protocol.
Microsoft has been playing around with its connected “Home of the Future” concept for years, but only recently got serious by pursuing a relationship with Insteon, a long-time player in this space. The pair even worked on the smart home’s first viable voice-command feature, courtesy of an update to Insteon’s Window Phone app and Cortana, the platform’s baked in voice command.
Samsung, perhaps more than any of these competitors, should have been in front of this movement. The parent corporation has numerous home-appliance divisions, some of which make things like connected refrigerators. And a connected oven is in the works.
But Samsung’s connected appliances operate within a very limited universe. Apart from integration with its own TVs, they don’t connect or cooperate with other devices, especially those from other manufacturers. In other words, what Samsung lacks is the interoperability that a cohesive platform could provide.
Big surprise for a company that still can’t stop bouncing between different operating systems for its TVs, phones, tablets and smartwatches.
Is It A Match Made In Heaven … Or Hell?
The smart thing about an acquisition is that Samsung wouldn’t have to grow its own smart-home platform from scratch, or get its various corporate division to play nicely together.
SmartThings seems like an ideal candidate. The startup has been lighting up the DIY segment of the smart-home industry, where people set up devices themselves instead of paying thousands of dollars for a professional installation.
After having raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter in 2012, the company added another $12.5 million from investors, putting it all to good use by focusing on developers—and marketing buzz—to build out its platform.
Now it can boast a growing, creative network of more than 5,000 developers, as well as compatibility across a slew of devices, from moisture sensors and lighting kits to fitness trackers and home audio speakers.
SmartThings has now gained a reputation for creativity—perhaps more so than simplicity and reliability—and that too makes it a perfect fit for Samsung, a company known for having a “pray and spray” approach to consumer technology.
Just take Samsung’s Galaxy line of mobile devices, for example. While these are terrific phones, they’re also full of bloated house-made apps, including S Health, S Translator, S Voice and other features users generally ignore. Meanwhile, on the hardware side, the minute size differentials in its ever-burgeoning line of mobile devices just keep on coming, complicating developers’ efforts to target specific screen sizes.
In other words, you put a startup that likes creativity and values developers with the vast resources of a multinational corporation that loves to experiment, and what do you have? Maybe a major new smart-home contender that can give your home limitless possibilities. But more likely, a big fat mess of complication, confusion and bloat.
And that’s why, if Samsung-SmartThings happens, it may make Samsung’s corporate strategists look clever for a day. But we doubt it will make our homes any smarter.