Samsung Bixby Developer Relations Team Cuts Staff with Some Responsibilities Shifting to the Viv Division
Samsung has decided to shut down what remains of its Bixby developer marketing team (what was internally called the Samsung Developer Relations team for Bixby) as of September 30, 2020. The move is expected to eliminate five jobs including full-time employees and contractors that have been focused on recruiting developers to support Bixby by creating custom capsules (i.e. Samsung’s version of voice apps). Voicebot reported in an exclusive story in late July that Adam Cheyer, Viv Labs co-founder and Samsung Vice President leading development for Bixby, had left the company. In that same story, we outlined several other departures from the Bixby team:
“A review of LinkedIn records show that at least seven people departed the Viv Labs Bixby team at Samsung between January and April. This is not that unusual for turnover in tech. But something more interesting happened over the last 30 days with three more prominent departures. Robbie Pickard, a lead conversation designer for Viv Labs, left for a similar role at Amazon. Senior Engineer Theo Gravity departed for an incubator and new startup. He had been with Viv Labs since before the Samsung acquisition.
“In addition, David Oh, who formerly oversaw developer relations has moved to Facebook for a role in developer marketing. Information about these other departures is available on LinkedIn. It is interesting that two of these people had public-facing roles for the company.”
The latest news about job cuts is incremental on top of the previous staff departures. However, industry sources tell Voicebot that while the departures are disappointing there are far more resources working within Viv Labs in developer relations than were ever on the Samsung-funded team.
This is Not Bixby Shutting Down
Samsung is a bit complicated when it comes to Bixby. The voice assistant in use today is the result of the acquisition of Viv Labs in 2016. Viv Labs’ co-founders negotiated a deal for Viv Labs and Bixby to remain a separate division post-acquisition. So, shutting down the Samsung Developer Relations team for Bixby doesn’t actually orphan all those developers out there. There are still developer evangelists and engineering support at Viv Labs that we expect to provide assistance. However, it does look like a continuation of a trend of diminishing resources for the Bixby developer community.
In late July there were no jobs listed on Samsung’s website related to Bixby and that is also true today. There are also no jobs listed on Viv Labs’ website. A Bixby developer commented on the changes saying, “It’s a shame because their tech is so good; and they were really good at dev relations.” I have reached out to Samsung for clarification on the move and what it means.
Google Assistant Rumors Persist
This latest change is likely to add further fuel to the rumors that Google is negotiating a more prominent role for its Assistant on Samsung smartphones. That positioning would be at Bixby’s expense. This rumor began with a Bloomberg article in July followed by reporting by Reuters which said, “Samsung Electronics Co Ltd is considering dropping its Bixby virtual assistant and Galaxy Apps Store from its mobile devices as part of a new global revenue-sharing deal with Alphabet Inc’s Google, according to correspondence seen by Reuters on Tuesday.”
However, Voicebot sources say that Bixby isn’t going anywhere and nothing has come of the rumors so far. Samsung has a history of investing over a long period in services and features that compete directly with Google products despite overtures of financial payments to abandon the internal features. Unless we see something tomorrow at Google’s fall product launch event, I’m not expecting any of these rumors to materialize into a tangible displacement of Bixby in favor of Google Assistant on Samsung devices. Google Assistant is already used more than Bixby on Samsung devices according to Voicebot survey data though Bixby use is climbing. With that said, a reduction in resources dedicated to Bixby developers is not likely to improve its recruitment efforts to support the platform.