Apple makes surprise appearance at CES 2020 in a unique Samsung product

One of Samsung's signature products of CES 2020 is a TV that automatically rotates between portrait and landscape -- and works with the iPhone.

Jason Hiner VP of Content, CNET Labs; Editor in Chief, ZDNET
Jason is Vice President of Content for CNET Labs and the Editor in Chief of ZDNET. From CNET's world-class testing facilities, the CNET Labs team designs tests to quantify the best products worth buying.
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Jason Hiner
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The buzz about Apple officially returning to CES after 28 years is true. Apple's Jane Horvath is speaking on a panel about privacy on Tuesday at 1 p.m. PT, and HomeKit-compatible devices are expected to be on display when the show floor opens on Tuesday morning. But Apple also made a surprise appearance on opening day at CES as the first press events kicked off Sunday.

The unexpected moment happened at a standing-room-only Samsung "First Look" event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Along with its 292-inch "The Wall" TV and its completely bezelless 8K TV, Samsung introduced the Sero TV. Sero means "vertical" in Korean, and the trick to this TV is that it can rotate between portrait mode and landscape mode, so it's tailor-made for millennials and Gen Z, who watch a lot of vertical videos from YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. (See my video of it in action.)

Naturally, Samsung first showed it off with a Galaxy phone that you can brush against the TV -- a new feature called "Tap View," which is also coming to other 2020 Samsung TVs -- to automatically pair it and start streaming content directly from the device. But then it announced that the Sero TV also integrates Apple AirPlay2 so that it can work with iPhone , iPad and other Apple devices. In the demo area after the presentation, there were several Sero TVs and one of them was very conspicuously demoed with an iPhone 11.

This is a very pragmatic move by Samsung, since the Sero TV is now being released for the US market in the second half of 2020 -- after being released in Korea last year. While Samsung phones have over 60% market share in Korea, Apple leads the US market with over 40% market share. Those numbers are even higher among the younger Americans who the Sero is aimed at. So Samsung needed to work with Apple to give the Sero TV its best chance of success in the US.

Apple and Samsung Sero TV

This Apple iPhone was used to demo the Samsung Sero TV at CES 2020.

Jason Hiner/CNET

Nevertheless, the Sero TV doesn't integrate quite as well with the iPhone as it does with Galaxy phones. When you use a Galaxy S10 or later, turning the phone sideways while playing a video to switch the orientation automatically triggers the Sero to swap from landscape to portrait mode, for example. On the iPhone, you have to push a button on the TV remote to switch from portrait to landscape and vice versa. If you download the Samsung SmartThings app on your iPhone, you can tap a virtual button in the app to swap between the two modes.

Last year, Apple also made an unexpected showing at CES 2019 in announcements from Sony , LG and Vizio that they were integrating AirPlay into their TVs. CES 2019 also saw an announcement from Samsung that it was integrating the iTunes into its TVs.

All the cool new gadgets at CES 2020

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Watch this: Samsung Sero TV has a magical feature for millennials