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22 February 2019

Samsung quietly offs Artik, how long left for SmartThings?

Samsung Electronics very quietly announced that it would be shutting down its Artik business, back in December, so quietly in fact that the only account of this decision available is on Business Korea. It’s a decision that shows that even the largest technology firms are not able to hit home-runs for IoT projects, and it does prompt questions about the longevity of SmartThings.

Our hat must be tipped to smart home aficionado Stacey Higginbotham, who brought the subject up in her IoT Podcast, but it is definitely surprising that the decision has been made and not reported on. This is one of the largest electronics and consumer goods firms in the world admitting defeat.

Admittedly, the deafening silence of the lack of enthusiasm for Artik was an omen. Reports of outages and bugs were concerning, and the silicon seemed well suited for prototyping but not so much for commercialization. Back in October 2017, it merged SmartThings, Samsung Connect, and Artik Cloud into one new service, called SmartThings Cloud, which was the source of quite a few of those complaints, but its limited hardware selection meant that the ecosystem never really took off for Artik.

We first reported on Artik back in May 2015, when the Artik modules were first unveiled. The three variants (Artik 1, 5, and 10) covered different needs, but it was odd that the Tizen OS was not mentioned once, instead running Nucleus OS for the Artik 1, and Yocto Linux for the more powerful version. The Artik 0 and 7 were unveiled in October 2016, but February 2017 was the date when Samsung announced it was killing off the Artik 10 – booting developers from the 32-bit design to the Artik 7’s new 64-bit architecture. The Artik 053 appeared in May 2017, alongside updates to the Artik Smart IoT Platform.

Since 2017, a few partnerships were announced, with Silicon Labs, Cypress, Trustonic, SAP, the OCF, PTC, and TeamViewer. The right noises were being made, and it looked like the ecosystem was growing, but there was never much fanfare about customer wins.

One of the most promising developments came when Samsung announced Artik Cloud Monetization, back in August 2017, which was a strategy that would let any Artik SoC user be able to sell data derived from those devices into a data marketplace. At the time, it looked like a great way to boost demand for the hardware and associated platform, as it would be a way for adopters to hasten the return-on-investment, generating post-sale revenues from devices in the field.

At the time, we noted that Samsung hadn’t had much public success, and since then, nothing really changed. So Samsung is probably making the best decision by canning Artik, as the division has probably never produced revenues significant enough to be included on its balance sheet.

But it’s still worrying that a company as powerful as Samsung can’t make a success of a project like Artik. It was a sensible strategy to try and foster its own semiconductor sales by fostering an ecosystem. Of course, the idea of a single-supplier for silicon is a little off-putting for many potential customers, but one can probably count on one of the largest semiconductor suppliers to be around for the life of a project.

Similarly, Artik could have had a goo internal use for Samsung, powering the smart home devices in its SmartThings ecosystem. Samsung bought that startup for around $200mn back in 2014, snapping up one of the most fleshed-out smart home platforms. Of course, we had enthusiastic visions of the plethora of ways that Samsung would leverage its position in smartphones to drive sales of SmartThings, and how its white-goods appliances could serve as entry points into the smart home, but, as you may have noticed, there has been no such progress.

Again, there are comparisons to be made with Bixby, Samsung’s AI-enabled voice assistant, which all adds up to a few major questions about Samsung’s vision for the IoT. It has (had) all the right tools, it has a huge customer footprint, and it has cash falling out of its pockets – so why can’t it come out with a killer feature or application in the consumer-facing IoT.

As CDRinfo reports, the only other outlet we could find covering the decision, Samsung Electronics is reportedly undergoing internal restructuring, to focus on AI, automotive, and 5G. To this end, SmartThings may well be sold off or even shutdown, if leadership decide that it is no longer part of the strategic vision.