Narrative: Samsung is Bad at Services
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Narrative: Samsung is Bad at Services (Jan 28, 2017)
Written: January 28, 2017
Samsung is the biggest Android smartphone vendor by far, and it’s managed to achieve that position without being particularly good at adding value through services – its main advantages have been scale and marketing muscle, as well as decent (and recently much improved) industrial design. But it has repeatedly tried and failed to make its proprietary services on its smartphones meaningful positive differentiators rather than sub-par alternatives to the ones that ship with Android.
That’s not to say that Samsung hasn’t tried with services, over and over again. It’s put its own voice assistant, video services, music services, and much more besides onto smartphones, but they’ve either fallen short or eventually been killed off entirely (see especially its “Milk”-branded music and video services). Samsung simply doesn’t seem to have the corporate culture necessary to do really well in software or services above and beyond the core Android experience. It’s also been prone to gimmicky add-ons that make for interesting keynote demos but aren’t useful in real life. In the last couple of years, it seems to have toned back some of these customizations and its ugly UI overlays as well, partly in response to pressure from Google.
However, it doesn’t seem to have given up entirely – it recently acquired Viv, a voice assistant made by some of the original creators of Siri, and intends to make an integrated version a standout feature in its 2017 flagship devices. Whether it’s able to do this effectively is a big question mark – it won’t have had much time to do that integration, and shipping a half-baked voice assistant is worse than no assistant at all, especially as Google’s own Assistant is likely to make an appearance on more competing Android smartphones later this year.
Short of making one or more big acquisitions in the services space to bring in the necessary skills and expertise, Samsung is likely destined to keep falling short on services. As Android competition intensifies, and especially as Google pushes further into the space with both its own first party Pixel hardware and potentially a renewed push in mature markets around Android One, that’s going to become an increasingly important disadvantage for Samsung, and one that it needs to take seriously.
Samsung has somewhat unexpectedly taken the wraps off its virtual assistant Bixby ahead of next week’s Galaxy S8 launch, where I’d expected it to be the main event from a feature perspective. Based on how Samsung is describing the feature, though, I think it’s merely trying to defuse some hype by downplaying expectations of what Bixby will and won’t be. (The hype was fueled in part by Samsung’s acquisition of Viv, which was a more traditional virtual assistant that Samsung acquired last year, but Bixby appears to be something less.) The description from Samsung is somewhat vague, but I think the approach actually has a lot of merit: every other assistant promises to be just that, implying a broad-based ability to meet needs, which inevitably leads to disappointment and frustration when it falls short, over-promising and under-delivering. Samsung looks like it will come at this from the opposite end, starting small and building up functionality over time, app by app, in a way that the voice interface is able to handle everything the touch interface does in the same app. That, incidentally, should be good for accessibility, something Android devices have always done less well than iPhones. But the big limit there as with Bixby overall is that if third party developers don’t support it, it won’t be very useful, and it the S8 ships with the Google Assistant users may just choose to use that instead. I’m very curious to see next week exactly how Bixby is invoked and how it compares to the more traditional assistant model. Samsung doesn’t have a great reputation in software and services, and I’m skeptical that it will get this right.
via The Verge
The number in the headline refers to the acquisition price of Viv, a virtual assistant startup which Samsung bought a few months back and is expected to integrate into the Samsung S8 launching later this month. To put that number in context, it’s around the same amount Apple was reported to have paid to acquire Siri, and tiny in the context of Samsung’s overall business – it generated $180 billion in revenue last year, along with $25 billion in operating profit. So Samsung can far more easily afford this investment than, say, Xiaomi can afford its comparably-sized investment in in-house chip capability. But it’s still a decent chunk of money from Samsung in a year when it also announced the much larger Harman acquisition. Far more importantly, we haven’t yet seen what Viv will do when integrated into a Samsung phone, and whether it’ll be as good as the early hype around the standalone product suggested.
Samsung has sold smart TVs for years, but they’ve generally been standalone devices, rather than being driven from a smartphone or app, despite an earlier project which was intended to use tablets as a remote. This new functionality looks like Chromecast, and may well be a response to competing TVs using actual Google Cast technology. As with most of Samsung’s services, though, it’s unlikely to be a big hit.