Samsung's acquisition of Viv Labs, announced Wednesday, could lead to the firm's development of its own AI-powered intelligent assistant. Viv was created, in part, by Dag Kittlaus, who also helped create Siri, which gained fame after its acquisition from Apple.
The news of the acquisition came on the same day that Google announced its latest flagship smartphone, the Google Pixel phone. During its Made by Google event, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke of the company's future vision for computing and moving from a "mobile-first to AI-first" approach.
Google's AI-first approach is built on its Google Assistant technology, which powers the Pixel phone and also works with its messaging app, Allo, and its Google Home smart home hub. Also, Apple seems to be moving to further integrate Siri into more of its products, working toward an AI-first future as well.
SEE: Quick glossary: Artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)
If you've been following the mobile space, especially the competition between Android and iPhone, you'd know that Samsung is one of the top OEM manufacturers of Android devices. So, if Google has built out its own assistant for use in that ecosystem, why wouldn't Samsung just use that?
Because the launch of the Google Pixel phone, and of Google Assistant, has bigger implications for Google's mobile strategy, and Samsung knows it.
Before the Google Assistant, there was Google Now. While they have similar features, the Google Assistant is more full-featured and more contextual. Google Now is platform-agnostic, but the Google Assistant is exclusive to the new Pixel phone, at least for now.
The problem with Samsung waiting on the potential availability of the Google Assistant is complex. With the increase in hardware commoditization, the next generation mobile experience will be defined by the contextual information provided by AI. Users won't care as much about what their phone can do, but rather what the software on their phone can do for them.
The update cycle for Android devices is complicated, to say the least. After an update has been pushed by Google, there are carrier tests that sometimes need to happen (and Samsung has a lot of carrier partnerships) and the OEM itself often adds its own skin and features to the OS before pushing it to users. This can take a long time.
But, Google devices like the Pixel phone, and the Nexus line before it, get the updates first. As AI begins to define more and more of the smartphone user's life, waiting on the whims of Google and other parties involved in the update process essentially makes Samsung a second-class citizen in the Android ecosystem. If Samsung wants to stay competitive in mobile, especially as a premium device manufacturer, they have to own the AI integration for their smartphones.
Samsung has also always wanted to be a software player. This was seen in the company's S Voice and S Health apps, but the Viv integration could boost Samsung's software prowess.
This also goes beyond the smartphone, as Samsung's CTO noted that the company plans to commercialize interfaces using Viv for its home appliances and wearable products as well. In that way, Samsung products that don't run Android will be able to utilize the same kind of "smarts."
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- Samsung will acquire Viv Labs, an AI company that was founded by former Siri creator Dag Kittlaus.
- As Google moves to an AI-first vision of mobile, Samsung is looking to remain competitive with its own AI assistant, so it won't become a second class citizen in the Android ecosystem.
- Samsung CTO Injoing Rhee said that the company will commercialize the Viv interfaces, and they could end up on wearables and home appliances as well.
- Google unveils AI-powered Pixel phone: 4 big takeaways (TechRepublic)
- Viv AI platform likely commercialized in 2017: Samsung CTO (ZDNet)
- Can AI and big data improve how you get news? Cheetah Mobile is making a $57M bet that it can (TechRepublic)
- Google adds AI-powered insights stream into Analytics mobile app (ZDNet)
- Samsung snaps up AI upstart Viv Labs (CNET)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is News Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.