There was a big surprise at Samsung's Unpacked event in New York on Wednesday, but it wasn't a new phone, computer, or smartwatch.
Sure, there was the unveiling of the previously-leaked Galaxy Note 10 phone and the previously-announced Galaxy Watch Active2. And there was also a new, thin laptop called the Galaxy Book S that runs on a processor from Qualcomm. But the real surprise was a person: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Nadella showed up to promote closer links between Samsung's new devices and Microsoft's Windows software for PCs. The partnership allows Galaxy Note users to do things like read and write phone text messages on their PC, access pictures taken on the phone on their PC, and (coming soon) make and receive calls on their PC. Those are all things that have been available for several years to people who use both Apple's iPhone and its Mac computers.
"In a world of 5G, cloud, and A.I., we get to rethink it all and reimagine it," Nadella said. "We believe in a future that will be multi-device and multi-sense… a world where the interaction model we have with computing no longer just starts with the device, but starts with people. It includes all the devices in our lives."
As Samsung fights Apple to lure the most lucrative smartphone buyers—people who are willing to pay $1,000 and up for their devices (and upgrade more frequently, too)—it needs help to match all of the features that Apple offers by controlling both the software and hardware on all its devices. Apple's advantage could grow in coming years, as people rely more on smart, connected devices and cloud computing services. Samsung, by contrast, depends on Google's Android software for its phones and Microsoft's Windows operating system on its PCs, like the new laptop it introduced on Wednesday.
The Nadella appearance was not the first such surprise Samsung has pulled off. The phone maker shocked the audience at its 2016 Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg snuck on stage during a virtual reality demonstration.
For Microsoft, the partnership fills the obvious and gaping hole in its offerings ever since Nadella threw in the towel on the company's own line of Windows phones. Apple has used the popularity of the iPhone as a gateway to lure customers into its ecosystem, where they are more likely to buy Macs over Windows computers. For Microsoft, which has begun selling its own computers, tying up with the most popular maker of non-Apple phones in Samsung is a logical move to fight back.
The partnership will help both companies compete better, analyst Carolina Milanesi of Creative Strategies noted on Twitter. The linkage "benefits both brands by delivering a tighter integration of services and cross-device experience, which has the potential to create a similar stickiness (that) iPhone has with Mac," she said.
At the Unpacked event, Samsung showed off two versions of the new Galaxy Note 10. One will have a 6.3-inch screen and start at $950. A larger version with a 6.8-inch screen will start at $1,100. Both are available for preorder starting on Thursday and will go on sale on August 23.
Samsung will also make a special, even more expensive Note 10 version that can run on new, super-fast 5G wireless networks. Initially a temporary exclusive on Verizon, the Galaxy Note 10 5G will start at $1,300 and be available for preorder on August 23.
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