Amidst the Samsung Bixby 2.0 announcement was an interesting data point. Samsung Executive Vice President Eui-Suk Chung said at a developer conference and subsequent blog post:
Bixby is now available in over 200 different countries, with more than 10 million active users.
Despite Samsung’s many Bixby rollout challenges, the company has successfully introduced the voice assistant to a lot of people at a global scale. Amazon Alexa is not in 200 countries. Well, it’s hard to say that Bixby is either given that most estimates suggest the total number of countries is either 193 or 195. But, we will dispense with the hyperbole and say that Bixby has been rolled out everywhere. That means Bixby is among the very few companies really fighting for a global presence. The other three are Google, Apple and Microsoft.
Does 10 Million Matter? Yes. And So Does the SDK.
Ten million users may not seem significant compared to Apple’s claims of 375 million monthly active Siri users, Microsoft’s 145 million active Cortana users and Google Assistant’s reach of over 100 million users. However, it is a good start after less than six months in market. This number is bound to grow further as more Samsung appliances get Bixby features. The user base also represents sufficient scale for Samsung to accumulate a lot of training data that can be used to further improve Bixby’s performance.
The introduction of the SDK for Bixby is another important milestone. The voice assistant will not expand beyond Samsung devices unless developers can build integrations to it. The big challenge will be to convince developers to support Bixby when they are already looking at Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana and eventually Siri. Bixby has a big advantage today for Korean-language support, but the English-language voice assistant competition is already fierce. With that said, Bixby 2.0 supposedly ships with Viv technology from the 2016 acquisition. Bixby 1.0 was an internal effort with no Viv integration. The new technology basis could help Samsung become more competitive.
It’s Not Too Late for Samsung or Apple
There is tremendous momentum around Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant right now, but that doesn’t mean these products will lock up the entire market. Samsung is late to market, but it has tremendous reach as the perennial number 1 or 2 global smartphone maker along with an extensive product line of appliances. Plus, many companies are looking for an open alternative to Alexa and Google where they can have more control over their data and customer interactions. If Samsung made Bixby more open and friendly to development partners, developers might consider it worth investing in because Alexa and Google as so restrictive. There are angles for Samsung to play beyond just pushing out Bixby on the Galaxy S8, refrigerators and dishwashers.
Apple is in a similar position. No one expects the company to offer full access to Siri to third-party developers. It is more likely to adopt a tightly controlled model for Siri similar to Alexa and Google Assistsant. However, Apple has global reach, a lot of active Siri users and a product line that extends well beyond phones. Apple just needs to make Siri more capable and more developer friendly to grow very quickly.
Bixby 2.0 may turn out to be an announcement that yields little in the end. Remember Tizen? It was a Samsung-led alternative to Android OS. Despite Tizen’s Samsung provenance, the company defaulted to Android for most of its smartphones and appliances. Bixby could face a similar fate in the face of Google Assistant. Samsung is betting things will be different this time. It will also be interesting to see if Samsung’s much-hyped Viv acquisition from 2016 will fare better than the internal efforts.
Additional details on the Samsung announcement can be found in this in-depth article by Khari Johnson from VentureBeat.