Each year, CES opens with a pre-show keynote that are reflective of the times. The honor of this spotlight, which is truly the most prestigious of all the keynotes, is determined by which technology and which companies are leaders of the moment. For many years it was Bill Gates and Microsoft that would open CES. There have been years when Intel, Verizon or General Motors would step up to the stage. In the past decade, Samsung has been chosen to set the tone on multiple occasions.
To be honest, many of the CES keynotes in the past have been, well, let's just say "over the top." Maybe it's the Vegas location that is the driver of this, but various keynotes have gone from celebrity overkill to singers and dancers and contortionists (the Cirque de Soleil years) with many being quite tone-deaf when it comes to modern gender sensibilities.
So, perhaps, one of the good things to come out of the pandemic is that silliness is not practical, a good use of marketing dollars nor right for this moment. Accordingly, Samsung's pre-show opening keynote focused on smart, timely topics – such as how a giant tech company that is self-aware about how their business is a driver of a monumental amount of e-waste is taking their responsibility to participate in the clean-up in a serious fashion.
The theme of the keynote, "Technology for Good," may also have been chosen because of the dark side of technology and data privacy issues that has been in the headlines over the past few years. This is a speech the industry needed to hear to get away from the consistent negative barrage. A strong majority of the talk was not about products, but about Samsung's vision and accomplishments to date when it comes to sustainability. The proliferation of digital devices and constant upgrading of technology -- coupled with the incredible wave of growth that the industry has seen as we equipped our home offices and built up our home theaters over the past two years -- could be an environmental disaster, even more than it already has become.
According to JH Han, CEO of Samsung's newly consolidated DX division (Device eXperience), by putting sustainability as a key consideration in product design, Samsung has been able to reduce carbon emissions by 700,000 tons with new semiconductors. Samsung has been utilizing recycled materials in many of its devices, from Galaxy buds to refrigerators. Han pledged that in 2022, Samsung will utilize 30 times the among of recycled materials and laid out a plan to incorporate recycled materials into all mobile products and home appliances. He also pledged that while last year's TV boxes included recycled materials, in 2022 all the packaging from the Styrofoam to the box holders and plastic bag will be recycled material. That will extend to more than just televisions, but home appliances, as well.
Samsung has a goal of eliminating up to 200 million batteries. In 2021, the company introduced a TV remote that uses a solar cell to recharge from the light in the home. In 2022, that remote will also be able to generate electricity from the radio frequency waves in devices like wi-fi routers. By 2025, Samsung TVs and phone chargers will operate on zero standby power when they are idle.
Also, Samsung highlighted a partnership with outdoor clothing and environmental advocate company, Patagonia. Working together, the two companies identified the top environmental problem that our oceans face: micro-plastics. To address this, Samsung has developed a new washing machine that can filter out micro-plastic and keep it out of the water biosphere.
And yes, there were some very cool tech announcements. Note: TVs were barely mentioned as the news on their 2022 lines had already been released prior to the keynote.
I really like The Freestyle (pictured at top), which is best described as a digital assistant on steroids. Imagine if your Amazon Echo or HomePod (cylindrical versions) did not just have audio but had the power to project on a 100-foot screen. Put that on a 180-degree cradle and you have The Freestyle. You can either play content from its partner apps (Disney+, Netflix and more) or allow it to mirror content from your smartphone. In addition, it also has an HDMI and USB 2.1 input. It's still to be determined if the brightness and quality that I've personally been looking for in a projector can be achieved by The Freestyle, but this is an extremely portable device that weighs less than two pounds. Now, this would be a no-brainer at say, $299 or $399, but at $899 I'm not quite sure that the value would be there for me. (I'm saying that because it's quite probable that my wife is reading this.) Anyhow, it's a cute and creative device and one that the folks at Amazon must be going, "Why didn't we think of that?"
It's inevitable that with 5G connectivity and computing on the Edge, that the days of needing an actual game console are numbered. While the current consoles still have much runway (if you can find one) the integration of high-quality online games from the cloud are now mainstreaming. Samsung announced Samsung Game Hub with partners such as Nvidia, Stadia and Utomik. No game downloads are required, and you can use your current controllers. To compliment that, they announced the Odyssey Ark, a next generation gaming screen that you can set up horizontal or vertical and the thing is huge: 55 inches with curved design. You can customize the angle and toggle between portrait and landscape via a wireless wheel controller. The screen can be split with multi-view options so you can video chat with your friends while playing.
Samsung is embracing the customization and personalization mindset -- or as they call it, "Bespoke." They are enhancing all their kitchen and home appliances from refrigerators, washer/dryers, cooking ranges and even vacuum cleaners with a myriad of color options that you mix and match to design your living space.
This month, Samsung is launching the #YouMake project, which is space on Samsung.com where you can share your customized projects and get inspired by how others are using this myriad of Bespoke options to create spaces that reflect their personalities.
Finally, in a bit of a more traditional announcement, Samsung announced Samsung Home Hub which is matter compatible and works to drive a whole home smart system. (Matter is a unifying industry standard for IoT compatibility.)
I felt that this was likely the best keynote that I had seen from Samsung in years. It was not their typical over the top, anachronistic, somewhat "tone-deaf to the times" presentation. Nor was it the boring, overly in-the-weeds tech keynote that it had been in 2019. It really hit the right tone, especially as they focused on products and presenters from their Future Generation Lab who were far more than the "Corporate" types. (I believe the word is "lit.") Although it was of course all scripted and well-rehearsed, there was a sense of pride and product ownership that these Future Generation Lab leaders were able to convey.
Great vision. Great message. Great products. Great keynote.
But Wait, That's Not All
We will soon find out just how down the attendance is this year at CES. In a normal year, without a press pass, the line for the pre-show opening keynote can stretch multiple floors at the Venetian Hotel -- at times even being a little bit dangerous. To guarantee even being allowed into the Venetian Ballroom, you must arrive hours ahead. The large ballroom is always packed, and they usually open overflow rooms with TVs to watch the keynote. This year, judging from the volume level of the applause when Consumer Tech Association President Gary Shapiro introduced Samsung's JH Han, I would, say (to quote David Letterman once), "It was like playing a birthday party."
Technology is what is enabling CES to reach those who didn't or couldn't take the risk to attend. We should be grateful for that. But I look forward to attending in-person next year, even if I must wait in that line.
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