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Samsung’s Future Is Only as Bright as the Coders It Can Attract

Your fancy new smartphone or Internet-connected refrigerator is only as good as the software that comes with it.

That seemed to be Samsung’s mantra during the company’s annual developer conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. Samsung’s president of mobile communications DJ Koh explained why the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer is placing so much importance in code—even though the world may still view the company as a device manufacturer.

Koh, who was promoted to lead Samsung’s mobile business in late November, is tasked with the challenge of ensuring that Samsung is still the market leader in the rapidly changing world of mobile devices.

The latest statistics from research firm International Data Corporation show that the smartphone market is flat for the first quarter of 2016. The research showed that Samsung still leads the smartphone market, but it saw a 0.6% year-over-year decline smartphone shipments in the first quarter.

Samsung needs to generate excitement around its phones, and for that, the tech giant is turning to outside developers to help create the buzz. Samsung’s latest Galaxy S7 phone has generated good reviews and boosted Samsung’s sales, but it’s no guarantee that it will bring life to a slowing smartphone market.

“All of you are key to making this vision come true,” said Koh in reference to how coders can build apps that could help Samsung remain a market leader.

Koh admitted that he’s not “a software guy” himself, but he said he has been immersing himself in developer culture in an attempt to make Samsung’s “company culture more open and collaborative.”

“I understand software engineers, and I appreciate the purity of engineering,” Koh underscored.

Injong Rhee, Samsung’s executive vice president of software for its mobile business, followed Koh’s speech by saying the company is “evolving into a software and services company.” Rhee bragged of Samsung’s dominance in smartphones that use Google’s Android operating system.

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Although software developers typically build their apps on Android, which makes their apps compatible with other company’s Android devices, Rhee essentially urged those coders to ignore the other companies and stick with building software for only Samsung.

Samsung may be trying to market itself as a software leader, but it’s still the hardware that separates it from competitors. Rhee said that Samsung’s smartphone hardware innovations like its fingerprinting technology, waterproofing abilities, its new mobile payment technology, and detachable pen, set it apart from rivals.

The company released so-called APIs (application program interface) that let coders build apps that can tap into the phone’s hardware features, he explained.

He and other Samsung executives who spoke at the conference urged developers to build finance apps or services that utilize the company’s new mobile payment service built into its phones. Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) have their own mobile payment technology, but Samsung’s service can supposedly work more point-of-sale systems that are not compatible with near field communication technology.

Rhee then described Samsung’s Knox security technology, which he promised should instill confidence with developers that Samsung’s device is the “most secure mobile system.”

He didn’t mention Apple and its recent debacle with the FBI over its security and encryption technology, which the FBI claimed was able to circumvent. But it’s clear that Samsung is trying to capitalize on any perceived weakness in Apple’s security technology. It’s also not just smartphones on which Samsung is betting the future.

Samsung executives took to the stage to talk about the company’s new device for connecting cars to the Internet, its Gear virtual reality headset, and a new lineup of Internet-connected televisions. All of these web-connected devices are examples of the so-called Internet of things, and Samsung is trying to convince developers that it understands technology trends and can be a trusted company for writing code.

The Internet of things is still a relatively early phenomenon, and there’s no clear standard or operating system for which developers can build apps on, like Android or iOS for mobile phones and tablets.

Samsung executives talked of new features for what it calls its ARTIK Platform, which the company claims will offer a uniform and standard way for coders to create apps for connected devices. The only problem is that Google has a competing Internet of things-minded software project dubbed Brillo, which should pose a speed bump for Samsung as it attempts to gain developer mindshare.

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Still, the Internet of things market is young, and there’s no clear victor yet in the software space.

“We can’t do it alone,” Koh told the audience of coders. “We need you.”