HIFI AS WE KNOW IT IS CHANGING, AS SAMSUNG ACQUIRES HARMAN
There's something interesting happening in the consumer electronics marketplace, as traditional tech companies such as Samsung move to acquire audio-centric empires the likes of Harman International.
HARMAN, who own JBL, Harman Kardon, Mark Levinson, AKG, Lexicon, Infinity and Revel, were purchased by tech-giant Samsung it was announced overnight for the sum of $8billion USD.
It's been no secret that Samsung have been speculating they are interested in moving more into the audio channel for some time now, seemingly a channel that they forecast growth within. Given the hit their reputation has taken with the latest Galaxy Note smartphone debacle, combined with a drop in TV and panel profits, it's no wonder Samsung is looking to spread their wings.
Samsung also denied rumours earlier this month that it was taking over French speaker company Focal, whose parent company also owns U.K's Naim Audio. Given this latest announcement, it could be fair to suggest that conversations had probably taken place at some point.
Meanwhile, traditional HiFi, to use the term broadly, is changing. The rise in popularity of docks, portable audio and in particular, the multi-room audio platform carved out by Sonos and now fiercely contested by the likes of Denon HEOS, Bluesound and Yamaha's MusicCast sees a crossover from tech companies recognising this space.
Bowers & Wilkins, one of the biggest audio brands in the world was earlier this year acquired by Silicon Valley's EVA Automation. Co-founded by three entrepreneurs, chairman and CEO Gideon Yu is a former Facebook and YouTube executive. Yu possesses the smarts to drive a company in today’s fast paced global tech market.
Yu said on the acquisition:
I am beyond thrilled to announce that we have acquired Bowers & Wilkins—in my opinion, the absolute quality and design leader in high-end audio equipment. I’ve personally been a huge fan and loyal customer of Bowers & Wilkins for decades and truly admire and respect their Chairman, Joe Atkins. What he and his team have created over the past 30 years is simply inspiring.
While B&W are arguably one of the best designers and manufacturers of audio products in the world, they had been slow to react to multi-room and wireless streaming technology. EVA Automation specialise in the software and architecture of audio and video wireless streaming. The marriage of this mostly unknown cashed up tech company and the audio giant gives a view of what we can expect to see from the combined companies in the future.
Not only does EVA Automation know how to do wireless audio streaming, they also specialise in video streaming. Will we see a new generation of portable and standalone products that sends both audio and video wirelessly and seamlessly throughout the home? We think it won't be far away at all.
Samsung's announcement focuses heavily on Harman's well-established automotive business which represents 65% of their sales. As the market leader in connected car solutions with over 30 million vehicles equipped with its connected car and audio systems, one statement in particular touches on the mammoth market that is consumer audio.
The combination of HARMAN’s brands and audio capabilities and Samsung’s expertise in consumer electronics will deliver enhanced customer benefits and elevate user experiences across Samsung’s complete portfolio of consumer and professional products and systems.
Samsung will gain access to HARMAN’s 8,000 software designers and engineers who are unlocking the potential of the IoT market. This collaboration will deliver the next generation of cloud-based consumer and enterprise experiences, as well as end-to-end services for the automotive market through the convergence of design, data and devices.
Internet of Things, or 'IoT' is described as "a network of physical objects and devices, vehicles, buildings and other items - embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data." Samsung's obvious grasp on the smartphone, wearables, displays and existing lifestyle audio-video product markets can only benefit from the technology that Harman brings to the party.
We watch this space with interest. Traditional HiFi brands are investing heavily in more 'lifestyle' focused products, the 'all-in-one' is making a comeback as enthusiasts shy away from racks of components, the connected space and IoT is growing at a rapid rate, and most of all, all of these products need to be connected together, seamlessly. Samsung's most recent acquisition will certainly give them an advantage once the transaction is complete in mid-2017.
In the audio space, Samsung traditionally doesn't carry much cred. The acquisition will improve Samsung's standing in this arena with some of the biggest names in the audio space joining the Samsung stable and their future products.
"HiFi" is changing. Technophobes likely won't appreciate the new direction, but let's face it, they're a minority now in a world of tech-savvy consumers.
StereoNET's Founder & Publisher and still buried deep in the review room auditioning everything from docks to soundbars, amplifiers and headphones. Marc is also the founder of the annual International HiFi Show.
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