Sony Counters Samsung 'Experience' with Qualia

By Jim Louderback  |  Print this article Print


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At competing events in New York City, Samsung and Sony unveiled new showrooms designed to highlight high-tech convergence devices.

NEW YORK—Samsung unveiled its new high-tech showroom Wednesday to a select group of media and analysts. Located in New York's swanky Time Warner Center, the "Samsung Experience" follows in the footsteps of Sony's popular Style stores, located in New York and San Francisco.

The 10,000-square-foot showroom features 10 separate themed areas focusing on home, work and play. Launched with a wide array of partners including Mark Cuban's HDNet and the MIT Media Lab, the Samsung Experience promises a destination for tourists and locals alike to sample and play with a wide range of Samsung's digital products.

According to MIT Media Center Director Nicholas Negroponte, who was digitally beamed into the launch event via video tape, Samsung's new showroom focuses on device convergence and personal convergence. Negroponte envisioned a world where devices do multiduty, morphing into digital Swiss Army knives of voice, music, video, home security and more. His vision of the convergence of home and work lives was vaguely disquieting, but the audience of Samsung executives, reporters and hangers-on seemed mostly bowled over by the array of technology, rather than the limiting capabilities.

It's a good thing the store isn't designed to sell products. Many of the hundreds of products on display—including a fascinating lineup of video- and photo-enabled cell phones—aren't available today in the United States. Other unavailable products were also on display, including a revamped 50-inch DLP (digital light processing) projector, notebook computers and a high-tech refrigerator and dryer.

But it's more than just a touchy-feely geek paradise. Samsung hopes to entice tourists to visit the store by offering to loan out its hard-disk video cameras. By simply plunking down a credit card, visitors can borrow a camera for a few days to record their New York experiences. Samsung also offers kiosks where, after they return the cameras, visitors can burn videos onto DVD to take home.

The store also offers MP3 downloads via the Napster service, and free ring-tone downloads to cell phones. "It's all about the digital lifestyle now and in the future", said Samsung's Electronics America CEO DJ Oh.

The brilliantly lit warm interior stands in direct contrast to Sony's Style store. Designed both to showcase and to sell products, the Style store includes a product showcase on the first floor and a decidedly hip lounge in the basement.

Sony programs competing event to focus on Qualia.

Sony held a dueling event Wednesday night; this one focused on the new 1000-square-foot Qualia showroom carved out of the Style store's basement space. With a more exclusive, and decidedly hipper celebrity-wannabe crowd, Sony's event focused on the company's ultra-luxury digital lineup.

Focusing on ultra-high end components, easy-to-use interfaces and super-inflated prices, the Qualia line brings the Louis Vuitton sheen to digital products. Featuring $3000 2-megapixel cameras that appeared to take amazingly crisp photos, along with ultra-high-end headphones designed for Super Audio CDs and a 46-inch LCD flat-panel television, the products themselves were stunning.

The HD-resolution TV, coupled with a Blu-ray DVD player, was particularly amazing. Alas, the 1920-by-1080-pixel display and source were marred by compression artifacts, particularly on some of the water screens. Still, the colors and apparent 3-D were stunning, especially because this was an LCD and not a plasma.

Sony has hired a staff of luxury goods experts to provide personal demonstrations of the luxury digital products to well-heeled customers. The staffer I talked with studied at one of the finest business schools in Paris, with a focus on managing luxury goods brands. He was both well-versed in the ins and outs of the product, and focused on how an ultra-high-end product line can add luster to the rest of a company's brands.

Why throw a competing event on the same day as upstart Samsung? "That's a question for Samsung," said Phil Boyle, Qualia's product marketing manager, intimating that they had set their date before the Korean company.

Samsung had not responded to requests for comment by the time this article was published.

The two events highlighted the differences between the two global rivals. Samsung's effort seemed to say "I've arrived" as a high-quality provider of stylish and technically advanced digital convergence devices. Sony, on the other hand, seemed to be changing the rules of the game by offering somewhat advanced technology at super-inflated prices.

How successful will the two be? With its premier location on the third floor of Manhattan's first luxury mall, Samsung's store should be a hit. The path to success for Sony's Qualia has more twists. As one attendee lamented, "If you buy a super-expensive car and park it out front, you might get noticed by the girls. A tiny $3,500 digital camera just ain't going to get you (noticed)."

But clearly there's a fairly large audience of people in the United States with more money than taste. And according to Boyle, he can't make enough of some of his Qualia products, including some of the high-end HD screens. The products are certainly stunning. But is that enough?

Check out eWEEK.com's Retail Center at http://retail.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis of technology's impact on retail.

With more than 20 years experience in consulting, technology, computers and media, Jim Louderback has pioneered many significant new innovations.

While building computer systems for Fortune 100 companies in the '80s, Jim developed innovative client-server computing models, implementing some of the first successful LAN-based client-server systems. He also created a highly successful iterative development methodology uniquely suited to this new systems architecture.

As Lab Director at PC Week, Jim developed and refined the product review as an essential news story. He expanded the lab to California, and created significant competitive advantage for the leading IT weekly.

When he became editor-in-chief of Windows Sources in 1995, he inherited a magazine teetering on the brink of failure. In six short months, he turned the publication into a money-maker, by refocusing it entirely on the new Windows 95. Newsstand sales tripled, and his magazine won industry awards for excellence of design and content.

In 1997, Jim launched TechTV's content, creating and nurturing a highly successful mix of help, product information, news and entertainment. He appeared in numerous segments on the network, and hosted the enormously popular Fresh Gear show for three years.

In 1999, he developed the 'Best of CES' awards program in partnership with CEA, the parent company of the CES trade show. This innovative program, where new products were judged directly on the trade show floor, was a resounding success, and continues today.

In 2000, Jim began developing, a daily, live, 8 hour TechTV news program called TechLive. Called 'the CNBC of Technology,' TechLive delivered a daily day-long dose of market news, product information, technology reporting and CEO interviews. After its highly successful launch in April of 2001, Jim managed the entire organization, along with setting editorial direction for the balance of TechTV.

In the summer or 2002, Jim joined Ziff Davis Media to be Editor-In-Chief and Vice President of Media Properties, including ExtremeTech.com, Microsoft Watch, and the websites for PC Magazine, eWeek and ZDM's gaming publications.


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