Making epic things happen: How 700 engineers from India made Samsung’s Galaxy S23 ‘ultra’ | Exclusive

“Samsung’s commitment to India R&D is very high and will continue to grow.”

Samsung Galaxy S23 series
Samsung Galaxy S23 series

Samsung’s Galaxy S23 series phones are great, but they probably wouldn’t be “epic” without the hard work and perseverance of 700 engineers from SRI-B. SRI-B – short for Samsung R&D Institute Bangalore— is Samsung’s largest software research and development (R&D) centre outside of Korea.

The centre, which has been in existence for over 27 years, has – over time— gone on to specialise in four key areas, including wireless communication, vision-related AI, on-device AI and multi-device experiences through SmartThings, Samsung’s propriety –but open— Internet of things (IoT) platform. Each of these areas of excellence was tapped and meticulously put together in close cooperation with Samsung’s other global R&D centres into the final product(s), i.e., the Galaxy S23, Galaxy S23 Plus, and the Galaxy S23 Ultra.  

“Indian talent has come to build this R&D centre and if today, it was able to collaborate with global R&D to create the epic product, it is because of their credibility and skill-set established over all these years,” Dipesh Shah, managing director of SRI-B tells FE, adding “that’s why the commitment to India R&D is very high and will continue to grow.”

Shoot for the moon

SRI-B primarily develops product engineering software for Samsung’s device experience business. There are about 25 such centres globally which collaborate to create multiple products. Platform software collaborations typically take between 2-4 years and product related software can take anywhere between 18-36 months to get into a particular product.

“Longer duration projects are done on the platform level and then when a particular product is being launched, we [try to] understand what consumer segment would be attracted and need this product, what experiences these consumers would need as part of that product and so, from the platform those features are picked up and put as a part of the product and shipped,” Shah explains.

Improving photography was at the top of the team’s to-do list with the Galaxy S23 devices. Shah says that SRI-B engineers have strong expertise in Visual Intelligence and depth estimation and in combination with powerful custom-designed hardware, these phones can take clearer, more detailed photos across a much wider range of scenarios (over their predecessors) including low light. And, they are capable of something called as astrophotography, which is to say, the Galaxy S23 phones can shoot for both the moon, and the stars.

The contribution of these engineers extends into the phones’ Photo Remaster and Object Eraser features as well as the AI-Interactive Contour Segmentation tool that lets users draw around an object in a photo to select and convert it to objects and stickers that they can insert in another image.

“AI is one area where India is very, very good because the entry barrier is very low. Lot of AI is open source and there are a lot of open data models so people can learn without having any disadvantage compared to their counterparts sitting in Silicon Valley,” Shah says, adding that “we have a seed lab in multiple universities in India where engineers are learning how to collect and how to use data for AI.”

Keep calm and break barriers

The Galaxy S23 series phones use a lot of on-device intelligence to drive personalisation, productivity and automation. Powered by a 40 percent better neural processing unit (NPU)— over the predecessors— the “made for Galaxy” Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip inside these phones, can theoretically entail faster and more secure experiences right from shooting high-quality photos to sharing them privately, when needed.

Shah notes that consumers, today, cannot satisfy their needs with just one device. They are constantly moving between their tablet, their laptop, wireless earbuds and their phone and so, creating a multi-device experience is as important. Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby will have a “central” role to play in this, and even though it wasn’t touched upon much during the Galaxy S23 series launch, it usage— apparently— is quite high in India, relative to many markets.

“We are going to continue to strengthen Indian English for Bixby for now and then the local languages [will come] when the right time comes to build those consumer experiences,” Shah adds.

The core philosophy, Shah says, is when more devices come into your life, you should not be adapting to how devices want you to use them. Devices need to adapt to your needs and bring seamless and automatic inter-device experiences. Samsung calls it “CALM” technology internally and a big team in Bangalore is working specifically on creating these multi-device experiences possible between personal home and open ecosystem devices.

“Multiple things are involved to put together one consumer experience. The experience is led by Korea. Indian consumers’ needs are captured by all the teams and fed into this global road map where we say, okay, this is what the creators of the world would want to do and then the work is distributed as per the technical expertise of each centre,” Shah explains.

Products like the Galaxy S23 may come at their own frequency but SRI-B has its own long-term platform development frequency and “there is more work to be done than what we have done in R&D and we are very excited [for future],” he adds.

Elsewhere, the centre is connected with about 250 startups on “regular” basis to guide them on how to modify their product, service, and experiences based on Samsung’s own consumer understanding and runs a program called PRISM where at any point of time, close to 1500 students and about 300 professors are working directly with the company.

“We are trying to create an IP culture in the country. Even the students and professors are now creating patents with the help of Samsung. So, we are creating IP capacity in the country through this approach and these are global patients and then of course, they’re also filed in India.”

Samsung also has R&D centres for smartphones, televisions and home appliances in Delhi and Noida. The company has a semiconductor R&D centre in Bangalore plus, separate R&D centres for Harman Kardon, which is also a Samsung company.

Also Read | Samsung working closely with Google, Microsoft to build measures to best prevent state-level cyberattacks | Exclusive

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First published on: 24-02-2023 at 15:05 IST
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