Technology

Samsung and Sony - searching for a new frontier

  • 5 September 2013
  • From the section Technology
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Do you get excited by yet another new touchscreen smartphone? Does the latest all-singing all-dancing tablet grab your attention?

Unless you are a dedicated technophile, I imagine the answer is no. And that is why the major technology firms are now on the hunt for new kinds of gadget to whet the jaded appetites of consumers.

As Berlin's IFA consumer electronics show gets under way, we have already seen two firms, Samsung and Sony, trying to stake out new territory with products that look different.

By unveiling the Samsung Gear smartwatch in a vast arena with an orchestra and a live link to New York's Times Square, the Korean firm was not going for a low-key debut for its new product category.

There are some cool things about the watch - raise it to your ear and it knows you want to make a call, swipe across its face and it is ready to take a photo from the camera in the strap. A clutch of well-known apps are already on board, and leading developers are preparing more.

But after the initial "Ooh"s and "Aah"s from the audience, serious doubts quickly emerged. The Gear is not a stand-alone device, but a smartphone accessory - and one that right now works with only one phone, Samsung's Galaxy Note. So, an expensive toy, and one that will need charging every day.

Beyond a minority of tech enthusiasts, it is hard to see a huge market for this product, especially when other smartwatches which work with a whole range of phones are already out there. But Samsung will be happy to have beaten Apple to the punch - its iWatch may end up defining this new market, but at the moment it is no more than a rumour.

Sony, with a somewhat less lavish press event, still wanted to give the world something new. Its offering - stand-alone lenses that connect to a smartphone via wifi - seeks to redefine the mobile photography experience. The idea is that they add some of the quality of a digital SLR camera to the convenience of smartphone photography.

Sony Lens - a portable lens which attaches to a smartphone
Sony's offering: a stand-alone lens which connects to a smartphone

Sony's engineering prowess is in no doubt, and the demo in Berlin looked very impressive. But how many people are going to want to carry another quite bulky product with them along with their smartphone? This looks like another product hunting down an audience that just might not be there.

Under its new leader, Kazuo Hirai, Sony seems to have got some of its mojo back, but it is still searching for the new Walkman - a product that will redefine what we expect from technology.

Sony and Samsung also launched impressive new phones - the Xperia Z1 and the latest version of the Phablet, the Galaxy Note 3. But, with profit margins from smartphones now being squeezed, the tech giants are restlessly scanning the horizon for the next big thing. So far, it has yet to emerge in Berlin, but I will let you know if I spot it.