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4 key takeaways from Samsung's Developer Conference

Al Sacco | May 2, 2016
Virtual reality, the Internet of Things and smartphones took center stage at Samsung's annual developer conference last week, but what the company didn't say was equally notable.

Samsung last Thursday closed out its fourth annual developer conference. Coders and other attendees packed up their gear and left the City by the Bay with few doubts about the company's priorities moving forward; the clear focus during the two-day event was not surprisingly on Galaxy smartphones, virtual reality (VR), smart home and Internet of Things (IoT).

However, if you paid close attention, Samsung also sent some less-obvious, yet just as important, messages. I attended both of Samsung's flashy keynote addresses, sat quietly in the back of a handful of workshops and dutifully toured the product pavilion, in search of the "stories behind the story" at Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) 2016. Here are four things you might not haven't heard about the event.

1. Very little love for wearables at SDC

The Gear VR headset is technically a piece of wearable technology, but VR headgear aside, Samsung spent little time addressing wearables or discussing development opportunities for other wearable tech, including the Gear S2 smartwatch, during its keynote addresses. In fact, you could count the mentions of the word "wearable" or "smartwatches" during those sessions on one hand — and you'd still have enough remaining digits to type a text.

Samsung held a number of wearable-related developer workshops (12 of them), but many more such sessions were dedicated to other subjects, such as general mobility (23 workshops), IoT (22 sessions) Samsung Tizen platform (16 workshops) and gaming (14 sessions.)

The Gear S2 smartwatch and Gear Fit fitness band were on display in the product pavilion, along with a variety of colorful accessories, but they were simply eye candy. A hands-on Gear S2 workstation in the pavilion was the most prominent representation of wearables at the show.

I can't say for sure what this notable dearth of attention to non-VR wearables portends for Samsung, or its smartwatch, but the little love for wearable tech at SDC was obvious.

samsung otto smarter home assistant
Otto, Samsung's 'smarter home assistant,' is designed to answer simple voice search queries. (Click for larger image.)

2. Otto is to Samsung as Echo is to Amazon

In an effort to show off its IoT-specific platform, Artik, Samsung created an Amazon-Echo-esque voice assistant, dubbed Otto, that it calls a "smarter home companion." Though the Otto devices that made appearances at SDC are only "reference designs," Samsung clearly put effort into the gadget, and with the company's accelerating push toward IoT, it stands to reason that Otto — or some iteration of it — will eventually hit the mass market.

Like Echo, Otto can answer simple search queries via voice and control a variety of smart-home systems, such as lighting and thermostats. However, Otto is designed to also serve as an in-house camera system that lets users monitor their abodes from afar. Samsung says Otto has an "endearing personality," as well, which could be viewed as a veiled knock on Alexa, Echo's somewhat frigid-sounding voice component.


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