Samsung made more announcements about its voice assistant Bixby this week, showing off cool features including image recognition: In a demo at the Note 8 launch event Wednesday, a Samsung employee showed how he could ask Bixby to move a picture of pizza into his "food" folder.
That's a pretty smart assistant, but whatever happened to its much talked-about Viv voice assistant? The company in 2016 bought Viv, which was pitched as a revolutionary “global brain” that would be able to place your pizza orders, manage your schedule and make dinner reservations without ever having to speak to a person. (It also happens to be made by the same people who created Siri.) The move was hailed by industry insiders, who said Viv had shown off technology in demos that seemed very promising.
Tim Baxter, Samsung’s president and chief executive in North America, said for one thing, the company had been working on Bixby before it acquired Viv. But he also said Viv brings different things to the table — and helps Samsung with its bigger ambitions for moving into the smart home and beyond.
So Bixby, it seems, is just the start for voice-controlled Samsung products. Viv specializes in work with services, such as social media, entertainment and others that are made by third parties, Baxter said.
It's a big ambition, and one that Samsung is arguably a little late in pursuing openly. Amazon and Google are currently the dominant players in the home assistant world, with Amazon scooping up 70 percent of the voice-enabled speaker market, according to eMarketer. The retail giant is expected to keep command of that market for a while, thanks to its expanding line of Echo devices.
(Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Still, only 35.6 million Americans currently use a voice assistant at least once a month — a market that's expected to grow substantially in the next few years.
Gartner, another analysis firm, has projected that a quarter of all household requests will be made through voice assistants by 2019.
One advantage Samsung may have over its competitors with its home strategy is its wide portfolio of products. It has the “widest assortment of connected products from any company in the world,” Baxter said. That assertion is hard to test, but with everything from smart televisions to smart washing machines and the broad ranging SmartThings line, Samsung has a plausible claim to lay to that title. With that cache, Samsung's strategy could address a big problem that home assistants face now: They only work with certain brands of hardware. Figuring out whether your light bulb can talk to the same assistant you need for your fridge is a pain many people don't want to research.
Still, a broad base of gadgetry will take Samsung only so far, said Julie Ask, analyst at Gartner. Companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple — which is launching a smart speaker, the HomePod, later this year — have tons of data and established services. That, she said, is a much different, and arguably more compelling, approach than what Samsung has currently articulated.
“One’s an interface and one is my porthole to an entire ecosystem of services,” Ask said.
Baxter said that Samsung's aware that it has a way to go but didn't say when Viv will make its first consumer appearance — just that there's more to come.
“We think these flagship devices that would be in the market this fall are real, strong proof points of how we’re building the bridge to this connected world,” Baxter said.