Technave and several other Malaysian websites are reporting that Samsung Bixby now speaks Mandarin and is available to Malaysian users. Bixby Mandarin support can be accessed today by Galaxy S8, S8+ and Note8 users. Samsung launched Mandarin Bixby support for China in November.
Taking on Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent
This move to support Mandarin now is an important strategic development. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language globally and represents a big market for Samsung to capture new voice assistant users. By targeting Mandarin, Samsung is also taking on Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent which all have voice assistant offerings supporting the language. The move makes Samsung the first foreign company to target the Chinese voice assistant market. Neither Amazon Alexa nor Google Assistant have offerings for China today.
Voice assistants will be increasingly used on smartphones over the next two years and China is the largest user base by a wide margin. Over 30% of all smartphones in 2017 will be sold in China. The United States represents the second largest market at 12%. This means that whomever takes the lead in smartphone voice assistant usage may quickly take the global lead. Consumers already have smartphones so they can immediately access voice assistants without the need for a smart speaker purchase.
David Watkins from Strategy Analytics made another important point during a recent Voicebot Podcast interview. Smart speakers require reliable broadband and WiFi connectivity. Broadband penetration in China rose from 55% to 63% in 2017 according to official government reporting. However, mobile broadband access rose to 75%. That means more people will have access to voice assistants through mobile than smart speakers based solely on broadband access. Add that to nascent smart speaker adoption and mobile is a good place for Samsung to develop a Bixby foothold.
Bixby Now Alone in the Two Largest Markets
I believe this move by Samsung means that Bixby is the only voice assistant that currently supports both Mandarin and English. That means it is the only company supporting the two largest voice assistant markets today. The company also plans to launch a smart speaker in 2018 which will likely make it the first product with both Mandarin and English support in that segment as well. Bixby has had a rough roll-out in English and there are ongoing questions about how it will incorporate Viv technology that it acquired in 2016. However, Samsung has ready distribution for Bixby because it consistently sells over 20% of all smartphones purchased globally each year.
Don’t count Bixby out just because Amazon and Google have some momentum right now and Alibaba and Baidu are formidable competitors. Samsung is a company that could develop a very large Bixby user base quickly. Voicebot reported in October that Bixby had over 10 million active users. That was a respectable number and it has certainly grown with the addition of Mandarin support. Next year could be big for Bixby.