Reports of Samsung Bixby’s Death by Google Assistant Are Being Greatly Exaggerated
Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant is doomed, judging from the headlines of articles covering Bloomberg’s report that Google and Samsung are negotiating an arrangement that could include promoting Google Assistant on Samsung devices. But, the original report’s single line mentioning that promotion does not indicate that Samsung will toss away Bixby, and there’s far more evidence that Bixby is part of Samsung’s long-term strategy.
Bixby Be Gone
According to the report, The main point of the negotiation is to give Google more control over search on Samsung devices. As Samsung is the largest manufacturer of smartphones globally, including Android-powered smartphones, Google’s interest makes sense. However, it would likely need a very sweet pot to tempt the Korean company. The promotion of Google Assistant would also fit with the extra search control, but it’s a considerable leap from that to the idea of Google Assistant replacing Bixby entirely.
Google Assistant is only referenced briefly by Bloomberg. The report mentions that “a potential deal would promote Google’s digital assistant and Play Store for apps on those devices,” and that it would mean Samsung’s “own mobile services, such as the Bixby digital assistant, are less integrated on its own devices.” That’s suggestive, but Samsung has responded with a flat declaration that it is committed to its ecosystem of services. It’s certainly possible that Samsung could contradict itself in the next week or two and announce an end to Bixby, but at the very least, it would be shooting its own reliability as a business in the foot to do so.
Shutting down Bixby would also mean Samsung tacitly regrets a lot of its mobile software strategy. The company even doubled down on Bixby recently by expanding access to older Galaxy smartphones that had previously used the now-shuttered S Voice digital assistant. Notably, it took a few years for Samsung to shut down S Voice, suggesting any major Bixby strategy shift would not happen overnight. S Voice survived through the first year of Bixby 2.0, after the first iteration arrived, failed, and went through a revision and re-release. Last October, Samsung executive vice president of R&D Eui-Suk Chung said there were more than 160 million Samsung Bixby devices. There are probably a lot more now, and new features have continued to roll out, including celebrity voices and integrating Netflix into Bixby.
Any deal with Google would have to account for all the time and money Samsung has sunk into Bixby. The ongoing COVID-19 health crisis could give Google more bargaining power if Samsung is looking for new revenue due to a drop in mobile device sales. Barring any additional information, Bixby fans probably don’t need to mourn the death of the voice assistant just yet.