Following Samsung’s press conference at CES 2023, the company convened thought leaders to take a deeper dive into the theme “Bringing Calm to Our Connected World.”

We sat down with Federico Casalegno, Executive Vice President of Design, Head of Samsung Design Innovation Center; Mark Benson, Head of Samsung SmartThings U.S.; and Inhee Chung, Vice President of the Corporate Sustainability Center, to discuss how Samsung’s philosophy of prioritizing more seamless connected experiences is driving the innovation behind its latest products.

Q: Samsung announced at their press conference that the theme for CES 2023 is “Bringing Calm to Our Connected World.” Can you share a bit more about the meaning and intent behind this?

Federico Casalegno The theme really encapsulates the idea of bringing order to today’s ever-growing, interconnected device ecosystem. There are more than 14 billion connected devices on the market, and to put that into perspective, the average U.S. household now has 22 connected devices. These devices are across users’ kitchens, their living rooms and all the places in between, and ultimately provide a lot of value to people. However, the same report quoted also showcases another side of this interconnectivity: about one-third of connected device users stated that devices for a smart home add too much complexity to their lives.

This is a startling statistic, so we dug into it a little further. We recently conducted research with consumers in the U.S. who continued to cite interruptions and distractions as leading pain points. In fact, 79% of those spoken to said that interruptions from family members or devices while working from home is the most inconvenient occurrence they experience.

Because of this, we want to make it easier to have those devices work together, providing a seamless experience that eliminates distractions and interruptions. Whether it’s a task in your home, your car or your office, if it’s possible for you to connect these devices, they have the potential to be more effective and helpful for your daily life than if they were not connected.

At one level, this is about removing the burden for the user, allowing users’ devices to connect super simply and making discreet yet time-consuming tasks easier. Take the act of pairing earbuds, for example: it is much better than it was before, but we think we can make it even more simple and intuitive.

Setting up devices is another key part of the equation. Users have told us that they don’t want to waste valuable time figuring out how to setup and then get their devices to work with each other, and have cited frustrations with device control as another pain point for them. For example, while watching TV, 53% of those spoken to said that it’s difficult to control the content transition when moving from screen to screen, such as from a TV to a tablet.

The end goal of our approach sees technology working in the background without distractions or interruptions in order to maximize the benefits that technology is able to provide. As users, we want you to simply enjoy your device experiences without the effort of having to interact with or manage the technology that is at work.

Q: How hard is it to design something that fits in with user behavior as opposed to being something that the user learns to fit around? What are some of the principles that keep you on track?

Casalegno: We live in a world where technology increases system performance and task-based processes. The crucial question for designers in such a world is how we can design products, services and systems for humans as opposed to designing human behaviors for machine optimization.

In order to achieve this, designers must first understand the people they are designing for by figuring out what their needs are, identifying design solutions for them and truly understanding how people interact with other people, products and more. Companies cannot connect or resonate with people by simply making products: they must help facilitate the actions and experiences of real humans. This is core to our goal of bringing calm technologies to every facet of people’s lives. For example, if you start a video call from your laptop while your kids watch TV in the other room, the volume of the living room TV can automatically lower so as not to interfere with your call. These types of seemingly simple, everyday scenarios are what we have in mind as we develop our solutions.

Our ultimate goal is really to create experiences that people nowadays aren’t even aware that they need but that are in fact capable of making a huge difference once realized – to a level of magic, almost. There are so many realms we can explore in order to develop technology that surprises users and that ultimately delights them through unimagined levels of functionality.

Mark Benson: This ethos of consumer-first innovation is the center of what we do at SmartThings. With the SmartThings platform, we don’t want users to feel like they need to change their behaviors to enjoy smart home experiences that make them feel safe, make life a little easier and also add a little fun.

Our goal is for SmartThings to be so in tune with user behaviors that it is capable of independently running your home, your connections with family or whatever else you need. This is why we get so excited when we introduce things like SmartThings Station, or we uplevel our collaboration with the Matter standard, as together, they are a roadmap of our mission to make SmartThings the core enabler of our vision for a better-connected world that is truly centered around the user.

Q: On the topic of consumer trends, ones that are altering user behaviors and preferences come to mind, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. What other trends have emerged recently that you see as relevant?

Casalegno: There are certainly a couple of key trends that have been impacting consumers. Firstly, we are seeing a rise in multigenerational living. Almost one in five Americans now live in multigenerational households, and this increase has been fastest among the younger generations, with 25% of people aged 25 to 34 living in a multigenerational household. This is significant because previously, the young adult home would be one catered specifically to those users’ individual preferences and needs – they would buy the TV, refrigerator or vacuum that best fit their own lifestyle. However, these products, along with the services they provide, now need to cater to multiple individuals who may vary vastly in terms of age, interests and even propensity to use technology. Thus, today’s solutions must be able to meet the personalized needs of multiple people with a diverse range of needs.

Secondly, we are seeing more homes become “multi-purpose” as a result of a move towards hybrid living. Even before the pandemic, we were observing that people were increasingly doing more activities at home, and nowadays, it is almost the norm, with 87% of people still willing to work at home if given the opportunity. These people are not only working from home but are also consuming content there thanks to the popularity of streaming and in-app movie releases as opposed to the traditional cinematic release. In fact, 71% of people have said that they would rather watch something at home than go to the movies. Furthermore, two-thirds of Americans would rather work out at home than go back to the gym and are instead using their livings rooms and TVs as gyms and personal trainers.

Thirdly, and most importantly, awareness around sustainability is an evergreen trend. According to a recent survey undertaken in the U.K. last October, prospective home buyers will pay more for homes with energy efficiency and renewable energy sources built in.

While there is a pull towards sustainability, there is also a push. In many parts of the world right now, concerns about energy costs are top of mind. That means we have to find ways to make conserving energy easier. At our press conference yesterday, we introduced how through both our products and our SmartThings Energy service, we are providing users with real, practical ways with which they can conserve their energy usage and expenditure.

Q: The topic of sustainability came up a lot at this year’s press conference and is also one that is paramount for both consumers as well as for Samsung and its product processes. How does the company’s sustainability vision translate into real impact for consumers?

Inhee Chung: Not only is sustainability a trend, it is also a business imperative. As Casalegno noted, sustainability is hugely important, and it’s essential that every business and product be built with sustainability at its foundation.

Yesterday, we shared how we are responding to this critical issue, and I talked, in particular, about everyday sustainability. In some ways, what we are doing is making sustainability a feature of our products. It is not an afterthought or an add-on – it is key to the products’ very inception and is just as important as a new camera function or a TV’s enhanced new bezel. Just how a product can help people be more sustainable in their everyday lives is central to how we think about product design and development.

What it really comes down to with Samsung’s approach to sustainability is the idea of joining forces with our consumers on this journey to take action for the climate. SmartThings Energy is one great example of how we are empowering our users to be more sustainable every day, along with our energy-efficient home appliances.

On top of that, we are focused on incorporating recycled materials into all of our products. In fact, some of our most popular products, such as our TVs and smartphones, are also our most sustainably made. We applied recycled plastic from discarded fishing nets to most of our Galaxy products released in 2022, and moving forward, we will include more recycled plastics in our products, including those sourced from fishing nets.

The way in which we are repurposing discarded fishing nets – which contribute significantly to ocean plastic pollution – and are applying them to our latest devices is incredible. After gathering fishing nets from along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean, we process and transform them into high-performance polyamide resins, which can then be used in consumer electronics. It is truly the stuff of science fiction.

Lastly, while we build our products to last – with some of our latest appliances having 20-year warranties – we also consider how we can help consumers recycle responsibly when the product’s lifecycle truly comes to an end. One of the ways we do this is through upcycling, the idea that we give the product a new purpose. For example, Galaxy Upcycling at Home gives new life to older Galaxy smartphones by converting them into a variety of IoT devices with a simple software update. They can then become a childcare monitor, a pet care solution and many other things.

These are just some of the things that we are doing today for our consumers so that they can be more sustainable across their daily lives.

Q: Partnerships definitely seemed to be another big theme at this year’s press conference. Why are these so important?

Chung: Sustainability-related issues are complex and have nuances that often require creative, cross-industry partnerships and solutions to address them. For example, in the case of addressing marine microplastic pollution, working with an eco-conscious clothing company like Patagonia helped us to identify a more impactful solution based on both parties’ particular expertise.

Additionally, our special washer filter that we discussed yesterday at the press conference, along with the Less Microfiber Cycle, is able to reduce microplastic emissions during a laundry cycle by up to 54%. These solutions are so simple yet so impactful, and it is this type of work that not only am I really proud of, but that I also believe is key to making a meaningful difference.

Such partnerships are critical to making a measurable difference through sustainable actions. We also believe that we can invest more in value chain partnerships and currently have plans to establish a system by 2030 in which minerals extracted from all collected waste batteries can be reused.

While Samsung is among the world’s largest tech companies and is very much aware of the role it should play, we are not going to be able to solve this on our own. We need our consumers, partnerships and industry support.

Benson: Creating calm in a connected world of 14 billion devices is a major undertaking, so we have formed alliances with other companies, even with our competitors, to make sure that this dream is realized.

Take the SmartThings Station, for example, which I personally love. We have merged new capabilities into a simple device that people use each day, and I believe this results in an exceptional experience for our users. Say I dock my phone for the night on my SmartThings Station; given the fact that it is evening time, that simple act of docking can kick off a series of actions that gets my home ready for the night — lowering the blinds, turning off the lights and locking the door locks. With one simple, ordinary action, one can set off a routine in one’s house that makes life easier. However, none of that is possible simply with one product from one company, and we have partnered with hundreds of device makers to create these experiences. That is why Matter is so important.

SmartThings was built for openness and was designed for interoperability, but for interoperability to become reality, you need the biggest companies to be committed to it, which is what makes Matter so exciting. With Matter and the Home Connectivity Alliance (HCA), we can really start to realize true interoperability. What results from this is a better-connected experience with less distractions and improved experiences for consumers. It is the perfect foundation for the smart home.

Stay tuned to Samsung Newsroom to learn more about the latest products and solutions being introduced by Samsung at CES 2023.