Exploding phones aside, Samsung has a major puzzle to solve.
The company makes more phones than anyone else and dominates the Android ecosystem. But when it comes to moving beyond the smartphone to the next major computing paradigm, it doesn’t have much to go on.
Artificially intelligent assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa are becoming more and more capable — to the point where it won’t be long before they allow us to wean ourselves away from the smartphone screen.
That’s why Samsung’s acquisition of Viv, an AI startup run by the same team that built Apple’s Siri, is the smartest purchase Samsung has made.
Historically, Samsung has tried to build everything in-house, without looking to acquire talent and technology from the outside. (It tried its own digital assistant called S Voice several years ago, but it bombed.)
But in recent years, Samsung has changed its attitude. It bought the smart home company SmartThings in 2014, which it will use as a platform to connect all its appliances together. It also bought LoopPay, a Boston-based startup that now powers a lot of the technology behind Samsung Pay.
Viv is the best purchase of them all.
Even though the product hasn’t launched yet, what we’ve seen so far is impressive. During a demo at TechCrunch’s Disrupt conference in May, Viv’s CEO Dag Kittlaus showed that the assistant is more than a way to get you basic information like news and weather. It’s an open platform that any developer can build into. Instead of a separate app for everything, you just tell Viv what you want to do, from ordering flowers to booking a hotel.
The Viv demo at Disrupt already felt far ahead of what we’ve seen Siri do, and it fills a major gap in Samsung’s product portfolio. Samsung may rely on Android for a lot of its success, but for now, Google’s new Assistant will remain on Google’s own hardware like the new Pixel phones and Google Home speaker.
Buying Viv isn’t a way to attract users. Samsung will continue to sell boatloads of phones in the future. But eventually, assistants like Viv will be so standard that shipping a phone without capable AI will be as stupid as shipping one with an exploding battery.
Samsung doesn’t have the time to build its own AI. It needs something now, and Viv is the answer.
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