Today, you might think of Samsung as the company that made your phone, your TV, or your washing machine. Tomorrow, if it gets its way, it'll be the company that gave some electronic brains to your entire home.
In a speech at the IFA electronics show here, Samsung Electronics Chief Executive Boo-Keun Yoon predicted the coming era of the smart home. It'll figure out when you wake up and start the coffee; it'll prompt you to take your medicine; it'll turn out the lights when you nod off; it'll suggest recipes that use up ingredients before they go bad; it'll give your daughter across the country a virtual place at the dinner table.
"For many, it's still just a vision. But change is coming, and coming fast," he said. "Remember how quickly, in just a few years, smartphones and tablets have changed our lives. "I'm certain the home of the future will be woven into the fabric of our lives just as fast."
That could be a stretch. It's easy to buy a discreet device that slips into your pocket or purse. It's much harder and more expensive to remodel your kitchen with a giant transparent screen to show recipes; to make a wall into a giant electronic display that provides scenery for your in-house treadmill jogging; to connect all the doors and windows into a security system; to buy a refrigerator that keeps track of what's inside. And it's even harder to get all these disparate devices to work as one unified system.
Yoon thinks all these new devices will blend seamlessly into our lives "so you don't notice the technology at work." No doubt he hopes Samsung shareholders will notice as the company taps into a major new revenue source.
Analyst firms project that in 2018, people will spend $100 billion on smart-home technology and there will be 45 million smart-home systems in use. It's a major part of the concept known as the Internet of Things, which links not just computers and phones to the Net, but also countless doors, cars, traffic signals, security cameras, and sensors.
Yoon is in a better position than most to overcome the difficulties. He leads one of the world's biggest electronics companies -- and Samsung makes appliances too, not just consumer electronics. Last month, Samsung acquired SmartThings, a startup whose technology lets people control their smart-home devices.
Although Samsung has much to gain from the spread of electronics into every corner of people's homes, it will use open technology that means other companies' products will fit in, Yoon said.
SmartThings uses open technology that lets dozens of companies' products connect. And Samsung is involved in at least two groups working on Internet-of-Things standards, the Open Interconnect Consortium and the Thread Group, which also counts Google's Nest and Yale Security as members.
Yoon said people will demand three things of their smart homes: "show me, know me, and tell me." He elaborated on the idea:
First, it makes complex data useful so you can make better choices. It will show you when to take your medicine, alert you to air pollution, or give you choices for saving energy.
Second, it learns your needs and recognizes your lifestyle. The home knows when your day starts. It'll turn on the lights and a coffee pot just in time.
Third, it proactively adjusts to your needs and provides suggestions without being asked. Imagine a home that tells you there are leftover ingredients to use up.
The technology is on the brink of quick adoption, Yoon added. "It will come at a speed we can barely imagine," he said.
It's a compelling vision, and Samsung isn't the only one who sees it. The challenge now is to develop the technology so it becomes unobtrusive and easy to use -- and to convince consumers that it's worth paying for.