NEW YORK—Samsung was back in the city March 20 to introduce its sixth generation of smart TVs, just a week after its high-production rollout of its highly anticipated Galaxy S 4 smartphone.
If it felt natural at the first event to make comparisons to Apple and the iPhone 5, Apple was no less front-of-mind at the second. Samsung’s best-matched competitor is expected to introduce a television later this year, though for the time being, Apple CEO Tim Cook has said little more than that televisions are “an area of intense interest.”
Cook added, during a December interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams, that when he turns on his television he feels as though he has “gone backward in time by 20 to 30 years.”
Cook may have felt differently on Wall Street March 20.
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who talked football, supermodel Kate Upton, who insisted she was a big football fan, and hip-hop artist Flo Rida helped Samsung executives show off a redesigned Smart Hub with five dynamic menu panels and a Smart Interaction feature that enables users to control Samsung’s newest TVs with their voices or simple hand gestures.
Joe Stinziano, executive vice president of Samsung Electronics America, said that the television industry was undergoing major changes, in both content and technology.
After reminding attendees that Samsung first launched its apps store for TVs in January 2010, he added that Samsung wasn’t taking its “leadership position for granted” but was pushing “technology to the edge and giving people what they really what.”
What they want, he said, is simplicity, and so Samsung had redesigned its interface, and also developed S-Recommendation, a service with video-on-demand (VOD) capabilities that helps prevent users from aimlessly channel surfing. It can recommend programs it thinks a user will like, based on viewing habits, or a user can tell it something like, “Show me all the comedies on at 8:00.”
Stinziano also said that more than 70 percent of smart TV owners user their tablets while watching TV, so Samsung has made it “easier than ever to use convergence solutions.” Users can now share more content “seamlessly” across devices, whether a tablet, a laptop or a smartphone.
Samsung’s 6th-Gen Smart TVs Include World’s First ‘Evolution Kit’
For example, with Samsung Smart View technology, a user can move a program in real time from the television to a tablet and back again (so he can, say, run to the kitchen without missing a play).
The five new menu panels in the Smart Hub show off, respectively, the channel currently playing, as well as personalized suggestions; movie and TV content from various content providers; user photos and music; highlights from social networks including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook; and downloaded Samsung apps, as well as new app recommendations.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, participating in a panel discussion March 17, said that his checks with sources, as well the few remarks Apple’s Cook has made, make him feel certain that Apple is building a television. The question is simply when it will arrive. He added that the firm’s best guess at this point is late this year.
“We think it’s six months after the App Store comes to Apple TV,” Munster said.
In February, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek told investors that at a March developer event, Apple will plug a new program that will let them create apps for Apple TV, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 13.
Misek expects the Apple television to be between 42 and 55 inches and start at $1,500.
Munster, during his panel discussion, said that in a survey, 50 percent of respondents said they would be interested in buying an Apple television; when asked if they’d be interested if it were $1,500, backers of the hypothetical device fell to 12 percent.
Is Samsung ready for its biggest smartphone competitor to rival it in a new market sometime this year?
One new product announcement suggested the company had considered it. A new Smart Evolution Kit, which will be available in May and sell for $299.99, gives owners of Samsung’s 2012 TVs the opportunity to update their models with many of the features in the 2013 units.
The kit, which includes a quad-core processor, GPU, and memory for faster processing and multitasking, clicks into a slot in the back of the television.
With the kit, “the TV of today becomes the TV of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” said Dave Das, Samsung vice president of home entertainment.
While Apple was never mentioned by name on stage, before the show began, a member of the camera crew leaned over to tease a reporter that her Apple MacBook Pro wasn’t welcome in the audience. All the technicians running the show had put tape over the glowing Apple logos on the lids of their MacBooks, he laughed. “But it’s not like you can’t tell what they are.”