Samsung Doubles Down On Virtual Assistant In Growth Push

Samsung Electronics is doubling down on Bixby, its voice assistant, with a plan to install the artificial intelligence platform on all of its electronics products by 2020 as it makes connected technologies a central part of its growth strategy.

The digital voice assistant, which was launched last year, has featured only on Samsung’s premium smartphones so far, but will be extended to other mobile devices and home appliances such as televisions, refrigerators and air conditioners.

According to the South Korean technology group it sells 500 million units of electronics products a year, meaning Bixby will be installed on billions of its products over the next two years.

Chung Eui-suk, the company’s executive vice-president in charge of AI development, said at its domestic developers’ conference that Samsung would also make Bixby open platform so that it can be integrated into and operate on devices made by other companies.

“If consumers can use Bixby with TVs, refrigerators and ovens, this will provide them with completely different user experiences,” Lee Ji-soo, the company’s vice-president for wireless business, told the conference.

Samsung in August outlined a three-year investment plan that involves pouring more than USD 22 billion into technologies including AI, automotive electronics components and biopharmaceuticals.

As it takes steps to shore up profits in the face of encroaching rivals, the company is looking to find new growth engines. With that in mind it is seeking to gain an edge in AI amid stiff competition to bring voice-controlled intelligence to digital devices.

However, its Bixby service, which debuted in March, last year with the Galaxy S8 smartphone, has come under fire from unhappy users over its limited functionality.

Samsung has struggled to make headway on the software front as it tries to catch up with arch-rival Apple in mobile services.

Bixby has shown far more limited capabilities than those of its US rivals, as it is used for a limited set of applications such as making a phone call. In contrast, Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana have grown into full digital assistants able to respond to search queries and perform a wide range of tasks, analysts noted.

“It will not be so difficult technologically to install the software on home appliances. The problem is how well it will be utilized. That will be the key for differentiation,” said CW Chung, an analyst at Nomura. “It is still questionable whether Samsung can go ahead in this area.”

In order to broaden its user base, Samsung will provide the Bixby service in more foreign languages in coming months. It is currently available only in US English, Mandarin and Korean.

Samsung also said it would release its software developer kit so that other app makers could use Bixby as an interface for their services. Its main US rivals have already released similar tools for developers, a move led by Amazon, whose Alex voice assistant has been widely adopted on devices beyond smartphones.

“It is all about expanding its ecosystem, but Samsung has a poor track record with software and services,” said Kim Young-woo at SK Securities. “I am still skeptical about how many languages Bixby can really understand and how many consumers it can attract for its service.”— Financial Times

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