Samsung's new SmartThings can control your appliances, even how you sleep

With two new devices announced on Thursday, Samsung hopes to make a splash in the market for Internet-connected devices, but its new open-source software may raise some privacy issues

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
With its new SmartThings Internet-connected hub announced recently, Samsung is expanding its lineup of "Internet of things" devices, such as the SmartTV.

Imagine waking up each morning to find the radio playing, your house’s temperature increasing instantly, even a freshly brewed pot of coffee – all controlled automatically through a series of Internet-connected sensors placed around your home. 

It sounds like a space-age fantasy – or possibly a dystopian nightmare – but perfecting that well-oiled morning routine is the goal of a new series of products introduced by Samsung. The company is aiming squarely at the growing market for networked “Internet of Things” devices, which allow users to monitor and control a multitude of household appliances while away from home.

The new products, called SmartThings, were unveiled at the IFA technology conference in Berlin on Thursday.

“With this next major iteration of our products, we focused first and foremost on security and home monitoring to help answer the question, ‘is everything okay at home?’ ” says Alex Hawkinson, SmartThings’ chief executive officer, in a statement. SmartThings, which was acquired by the Korean electronics giant last year, says the Internet hub will be compatible with nearly 200 devices. 

But unlike its competitors – including Google and Apple – Samsung is taking a more open-ended approach to its Internet-connected hub. It will make the software – which works on both Android and iOS devices – freely available to developers,  allowing SmartThings to connect to a variety of appliances, lighting, and audio systems made by other manufacturers.

As the market for Internet of Things devices continues to expand, some analysts say that open-source software will be rare among smart devices, partly because of concerns about security.

“Based on what we’ve seen in the past, we’ll see both of those models come into play: they’ll be some [companies] that lock down their software and others that are more interested in opening it up and allowing developers to improve it,” says Paul Jauregui, vice president of marketing at Praetorian Security, which recently developed a searchable map to track how Internet of Things devices are used across the country. “With all of these things coming online, it’s going to be critical to keep them up to date, just as you would with a computer.”

For companies, such as Samsung, that are hoping to make a splash, he says, “there’s definitely a go-to-market pressure, to be first to market, and security often gets left by the wayside.”

In addition to controlling devices directly, SmartThings will also have a video-monitoring feature, which would use motion sensitive cameras to record video automatically and send it to users when an unexpected event occurs, such as a fire or a burst pipe. 

At IFA, the company also introduced a more unusual Internet-connected device: SleepSense, which aims to improve how people sleep by monitoring sleeping patterns – such as how long it takes you to fall asleep – through a sensor placed below a person’s mattress. This so-called “personal sleep consultant,” then connects to devices such as air conditioners and lights and adjusts them based on the information from the sensor. It was developed in collaboration with a professor from Harvard Medical School, according to the International Business Times.

With nearly 5 billion Internet-connected devices currently in use, an increase of 30 percent from last year, according to the market analysis firm Gartner, how the data from such devices is used may raise concerns, Samsung acknowledged this week. SmartThings will use an encryption system similar to one used by major banks, says Andy Griffiths, the company’s president of UK and Ireland, to the Guardian.

“We believe a connected home will provide users [with] more information, more piece of mind and more control in their lives – but privacy is fundamental,” he says.

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