If reports from Variety are to be believed, it appears that Samsung may finally be caving to the pressure from the immense growth of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa in the smart device race. At this point, according to stats garnered by Variety, by the end of 2019 Amazon will likely control 63% of the smart speaker market with Google coming in second at 31%. That leaves only 6% of the market for other players like Siri, Cortana, and Bixby.
According to this report, Samsung’s TV lineup (one of their most important vertical segments) will launch at CES in January with at least the option for users to enable the Google Assistant for things like audio control, weather, playback, and channel switching. Bixby has only recently been added to Samsung’s 2018 TV lineup, and that addition is quite limited.
Play/pause and volume can be controlled with Samsung’s assistant, but it currently has no access to anything outside the Samsung ecosystem and has not been opened up to 3rd-party apps developers at all. Samsung admits they are still in the early stages of Bixby for TVs, so perhaps this is all a stop gap as they continue working on the effort. I think there’s more going on, though.
Writing On The Wall
We’ll likely see all this at CES in just over a week, but the trajectory seems a pretty dire one for Bixby. In general use, Bixby lags far behind all other assistants in usefulness and isn’t even in the conversation most times when AI is being discussed. I’ve personally not had a lot of hands-on experience with Bixby, so I’m not here to pass judgement on whether or not it is good. Instead, I want to point out what seems to be a clear end game.
If, in one of Samsung’s most popular and profitable segments (TVs), Samsung is choosing to circumvent the assistant it has been pushing on users for a couple years, I think it is safe to say that the days of Bixby could be reaching a quiet end. Smart assistants, after all, are blowing up in the home. Sure, we use them on our phones, too, but the big growth is in user’s living spaces. Google has reported massive hardware earnings for 2018 and cited much of that revenue is tied to Google Home devices.
In most homes, the television is usually a focal point that gets tons of time and attention paid to it. In the television space specifically, Samsung is king with a reported 34% market share.
No one else is even close.
So, put all that together and it would make all the sense in the world for Samsung to leverage it’s presence in the home via TVs to really expand Bixby’s reach. That would be the assumption, right? Instead, what we’re seeing is perhaps the most telling of strategy shifts: a move to incorporate Google Assistant as an alternative.
Sure, you may get to choose between Assistant and Bixby, but looking at comments and articles online show quite clearly that most users choose Google Assistant on their phones already when presented with the option. There’s little reason to think that users will opt for a stunted and limited Bixby when they can choose to use Google’s much more capable Assistant.
With Samsung making this shift in TVs first, it only stands to reason that they would slowly shift their other massive hardware division – phones – to follow suit in the following years. It is tough to launch a massive software-driven AI. Kudos to Samsung for trying, but Bixby just hasn’t panned out. It feels like the time might be right to start making other options easy and then simply let Bixby fade to the background and out of sight. All they would need to do on their phones is allow a simple remap of the much-loathed Bixby button and allow it to instead call up the Google Assistant.
After a period of time, Bixby could be discontinued and few users would ever even notice. There is a clear path out of all this for Samsung without the need for a big concession announcement, and from the looks of it, they may be taking those first steps very, very soon.