A month ago, while Samsung was dealing with the fallout from its exploding smartphone scandal, it also quietly bought a much-buzzed-about artificial intelligence startup, Viv Labs.
The company, co-founded by the inventors of Siri, Apple’s ubiquitous voice assistant, will be working on integrating its voice-assisted AI technology with Samsung products. Viv’s initial focus will be on the next generation of Galaxy smartphones, but the goal is to extend AI to other Samsung products, like washing machines and smartwatches.
As a startup, Viv Labs faced an uphill battle to make its AI software competitive with services and products from conglomerates like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Though the company drew some good press a couple years ago, products like the Echo and features like smart chatbots dominated the conversation about consumer-facing artificial intelligence.
Samsung has a reputation for making great hardware, but that reputation was dented significantly this fall as the company recalled nearly 2 million units of its latest smartphone, the Galaxy Note 7, for exploding batteries and then last week issued a recall of washing machines for breaking apart during the spin cycle.
Samsung does not have a great reputation as a software maker, and that’s where Viv comes in. If AI essentially replaces search as the must-have app for smartphones, it could give Samsung a way to wean itself off the Google-owned apps and services, including Android, featured on the vast majority of Samsung smartphones.
Samsung has successfully competed with Apple in high-end hardware, but because there are so many high-quality Chinese-made smartphones at affordable prices, Samsung, as analyst Ian Fogg previously told VICE News, needs to focus on differentiating itself.
If Samsung can build its own ecosystem of software and services — a big if — it could better compete with high-end alternatives like Google’s Pixel and the iPhone.
Some analysts anticipate that Samsung might push forward the S8 Galaxy release date, in order to get past the Note 7 fiasco faster. This makes sense: The fallout from the recall is expected to cost Samsung more than $5 billion into 2017.