CES 2013: Samsung beats Apple with super-smart voice-controlled TV

CES, 2013: Samsung has beaten Apple [AAPL] to the punch with a super-smart, voice-controlled television, at least in theory, though it isn't yet in position to deliver on content, bar YouTube.

[ABOVE: Samsung's CES keynote.]

Samsung's Apple attack

Apple's arch-foe introduced its new TV flagship, the enticingly named F8000, at a press conference at the consumer electronics show today, lobbing a couple of pot shots at Apple as it did.

The Street calls Samsung's new goggle boxes "stunningly beautiful", pointing out these things "allow for more connectivity and interaction with the devices than ever before."

Highlights

  • Sized between 46-inches to 75-inches (Apple rumored to be working on TVs of similar size).
  • Intelligent Viewing -- an advanced content guide.
  • Quad core processor
  • Apps support
  • Internet
  • Social Networking
  • Voice navigation

The firm also introduced SmartHub:

"Samsung Smart Hub: Five intuitive panels help consumers manage and navigate different types of content, which are displayed as thumbnail images for the first time so it’s even easier to select and watch the content on the big screen. With a light hand gesture (flipping), you can discover five totally different experiences in Smart Hub, as if you have five new TV sets."

Samsung beats Apple to Apple television

[ABOVE: Samsung's Apple TV?]

First mover advantage?

In a few digs at Apple the company mentioned that it shipped 40 percent more connected devices during the last quarter than did its nearest competitor, and adding that the Galaxy S III is the world's best-selling smartphone.

The company also introduced a range of OLED (organic light-emitting diode) televisions with built-in speaker systems, offering more screen resolution than other televisions out there.

That last point is interesting because Apple has clearly been moving towards high-quality displays across its products - why else does the company so often note that Retina Display iPads have more screen pixels than large televisions?

It's clear that the protracted negotiations with Sharp have something to do with the company's future plans for displays. It doesn't take a genius, Apple-holic or otherwise, to figure out that resolution is also part of the game plan for Apple's attempt at a TV revolution.

But content is king, right?

Apple's attempts to sign content providers and cable companies up to its plans for television are frequently reported to be foundering on the rocks of industry intransigence. People in the TV industry make a lot of cash through advertising, they don't want to share that money with up-and-coming technology firms.

The thing is, advertisers want the kind of features they can expect from intelligent broadcast platforms: audience segmentation; user preference information; the chance to beam intelligently curated ads at receptive eyeballs, rather than the scatter-gun approach you expect from mass market television advertising within the current system.

The drive among advertisers is so strong that there have been some cases in which big names have shifted their television budgets online, which is where YouTube, the defacto market leader for on-demand online television (apart from iPlayer in the UK) comes in.

Samsung's new televisions include extensive support for YouTube.

Google has been working pretty hard to make YouTube something more than just a destination for user-submitted content: Channels, relationships with Hollywood studios, investments in content creation and introduction of AirPlay-like features so you can stream content from your Android device to connected televisions are all part of this bid.

Advertisers want iTunes, YouTube TVs

Apple's iTunes team meanwhile continues to negotiate in that company's attempt to reach deals: however its iTunes empire -- despite the enormity of the apps services it talked about yesterday -- is threatened by on-demand services, such as YouTube or Spotify.

I'm guessing Apple seeks to offer up shows ad-free as a premium service via iTunes, but while I’m certain many people will pay for this, I'm also certain a lot of customers want to avoid regular recurring charges due to the financial constraints of the dissolving global economy.

The thing is, broadcast incumbents can no longer protect their fiefdoms quite as fiercely, as advertisers want to be pushing their goods via online channels. They want social networking, viral sharing, on-demand transmission. Broadcast and cable chiefs know they need to follow the money, and this is what the money wants.

This means the resistance those incumbents have offered to Apple, Google, Intel and others attempting to make waves in the future of broadcasting will inevitably fade. This means deals between broadcast and cable firms and Apple et all will eventually be reached.

Meanwhile YouTube continues to transform itself into a new connected online broadcasting channel that seems equally as important as any conventional channel. It even offers its own content, and content from partners.

This gives Samsung's connected televisions a good chance at success, because while the company has itself admitted it doesn't yet offer a good enough content acquisition system, its relationship with Google/YouTube means it should be able to offer a better vehicle for a whole bunch of TV content (for free) than Apple.

Apple hurdles

Apple's smart television plan now seems under attack: after all, what we think we know of this suggests voice/gesture-controlled televisions, large ultra high res displays, a content acquisition center, social networking and apps support.

One advantage the company does have, of course, is developers. iOS developers will already be looking forward to WWDC 2013, which has to be the most likely launch point for a developer SDK for apps deployment on any future Apple television set.

Such an outcome seen alongside claims the company has rescheduled its press launches for iPads and iPhones to earlier in the year could suggest an October/November launch of these things. That's if Apple ever ships these devices. However, with Samsung's launch at CES, it's pretty clear Apple will have to be prepared to deal with accusations of being a follower, not a leader, as the smartphone wars break out across the television sets in front rooms everywhere.

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