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Samsung launches its first developers conference, and faces a daunting task

October 28th, 2013 |  Published in Digital and Mobile Technology, Samsung

Samsung developers conference



By: Eric De Grasse, Chief Technology Officer

28 October 2013 – Samsung. Probably the world’s biggest device maker. On Friday the company said its net profit jumped 26% in the most recent quarter to a record 8.24 trillion won  ($7.8 billion).

But in this industry it knows one thing: future growth depends on keeping customers loyal through unique software services. To solidify its market position, it recognizes the need to give its customers a reason to be loyal to its brand — a strategy that involves building an Apple-like suite of software and services that work well together, and can’t easily be found elsewhere.

Today … behind the booming Galaxy range of smartphones, phablets, and a critically-panned smart watch … it launched its first developers conference in downtown San Francisco. More than 1,300 attendees, many of them software engineers, crammed into the St. Francis Westin Hotel to thumping electronic music and heavy blue lighting, eager to gauge how much of their time and money should go into optimizing their apps for Samsung devices. The company’s pitch is that with more of its future gadgets becoming connected to one another, future apps will need to optimize for the Samsung platform.

To help them with the task, Samsung announced it was releasing five, new software development kits (SDKs) which developers can use to create apps for consumers and enterprise customers for its smartphones, tablet and smart TVs. The SKDs for Samsung’s mobile devices, TVs, gaming and multiscreen integration were now more “streamlined,” it said in a press release. “Samsung is creating one of the largest connected platforms spanning a broad range of devices,” the company said.

The SDKs were its best moves given how Samsung is getting around the disadvantage of having no large, proprietary software platform on which it can offer unique services — and so to compete with Apple which counts both its hardware and iOS and Mac OS platforms as its own. A hardware company at its core, Samsung relies on the Android open source platform to power its smartphones, which brought in one-third of its $10 billion in operating profit in the last quarter.  But pressure is coming from all sides as Google is clearly pushing its own branded services through Android more and more.

So it is on the move, busy making deals with companies like Twitter and Dropbox, hoping such partnerships will distinguish its products from a growing number of primarily Chinese competitors who, like Samsung, sell sleek smartphones that run Google’s Android operating system. The Twitter tie-up was well-times, making the Twitter app an exclusive for Samsung tablets ahead of a general release. The app has features designed specifically to take advantage of Samsung’s proprietary technology, like the S Pen stylus included on many of its smartphones and tablets.

The company’s partnership with Dropbox, which began last year, gives customers of Samsung’s high-end smartphones an extra dollop of storage space on the popular cloud-based service, which is integrated into Samsung’s interface.

The developers conference this week seeks to build on that strategy: attracting software developers who will build apps exclusively for Samsung, or who can help weave together Samsung devices as disparate as its smartphones and televisions. The goal: to give consumers fewer reasons to switch to a rival’s device.

But holding a developers conference won’t change things for Samsung overnight. It remains to be seen whether Silicon Valley’s top talent will take to the argument that they should develop apps that are “more than just Android,” as Samsung argued in a blog post last week. And Apple apps still pay more, and still have a higher cache. Developers can reach a far larger audience by building apps for Apple’s iOS and for all Android devices, including Samsung’s, and will need a powerful incentive to build software that runs solely on Samsung products, no matter how dominant the company’s market share may be right now.

And they face a lot of developer skepticism especially since Samsung’s own proprietary features, like the S Pen stylus and its ChatON messaging app, have failed to excite the tech community.

But it is still drawing a large crowd if only because of Samsung’s clout in the industry and curiosity about its plans. And it is a strange  symbiotic relationship. Up to now Samsung has opted to build most of the key software applications for its devices in house, without the help of, and sometimes in competition with, the third-party developers it is now courting.

So, yes, it is going to be a tough sell, to persuade developers to gamble on Samsung’s fledgling ecosystem. Microsoft and BlackBerry have each struggled to attract developers to its operating system, eventually turned to promising cash or additional promotion to lure app developers, with limited success.

We’ll have more later this week.

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