Samsung, despite doing everything in AI, is the second company in our “Neglected AI Company” series. This week, we focus on they can compete with the AI supermajors in the consumer AI space.
Samsung is a complicated company
Writing an introduction to describe such a vast company is even more difficult. They literally do everything and their dominance in South Korea is staggering. A quote from the Washington Post five years ago, sums it up nicely
You can use a Samsung credit card to buy a Samsung TV for the living room of your Samsung-made apartment on which you’ll watch the Samsung-owned pro baseball team.
Despite being a global technology leader, and the #1 shipper of smart phones, Samsung doesn’t get the respect they deserve. Benedict Evans, a general partner at the venture capital fund Andreessen Horowitz, recently put out this tweet:
It’s funny how Samsung has almost completely disappeared from the tech conversation.
— Benedict Evans (@benedictevans) October 15, 2018
Samsung’s presence in AI, or, perceived presence in AI is even worse. You could rewrite that quote to be “It’s crazy how Samsung appears in almost no AI conversation.”
Crazy, it is.
There are very few things Samsung hasn’t done with AI in 2018. This past Feb, Samsung’s head of research said all Samsung devices will have AI embedded into them by 2020. In August, Samsung said it was going to invest $22 bn into new technologies, which included AI. Samsung opened its 7th AI center in Montreal two weeks ago. Samsung is also hiring engineers to build GPUs for high performance computing as well as developing AI chips for mobile phones. This is on top of Samsung buying a company which was created by the founders of Siri.
So, why do they go unrecognized?
Honestly, I have no idea. Maybe it’s because they haven’t created a lovable AI mascot, or beaten a world class Go player with some fancy AI, or have incriminating articles written against them about how their algorithms show bias.
Whatever the reason, it’s a big problem
If Samsung is going to put AI into their devices and create one omnipresent AI, they need to make sure people think of them as an AI leader. To raise awareness, Samsung has already started running ads showing connectivity between things like smartphones, TVs and fridges and the commercials are pretty good, but even if Samsung solves for the awareness problem, the question I struggle with, is does having a single, unified AI across almost all devices lead to a better experience for the consumer?
Or more simply, will consumers buy into the Samsung AI?
Getting back to our friend, Benedict Evans, he has a good post from a year earlier saying “How many smart devices do you have?” will be like asking how many incandescent lightbulbs you have. In five years, you might replace “smart devices” with “AI devices.” Of course, this isn’t Samsung’s fault. There is only so much AI can do now and AI is not going to magically get significantly better in the next five years, where you can just have your life on AI-Autopilot.
But either through marketing or new features, Samsung needs to sell consumers on the benefit of the Samsung AI ecosystem and why their AI will be better than everyone else’s. Samsung could go in a couple different directions, which I have outlined here.
If Samsung is insistent of pushing the AI ecosystem, their biggest advantage is the phone, since companies like Amazon cannot compete with them in this area. This could involve Bixby, Samsung’s personal assistant, transcribing voice notes to text, answering emails on the go, or keeping tabs on the AI ecosystem while you are gone. Once you get home to the ecosystem, everything needs to synch with your phone and work seamlessly, in order to fake full advantage.
More than just voice
Samsung needs to define how AI is much more than a canned voice interaction. Maybe the company displays recipes that people will like on its fridge, based on what they have previously eaten. Whatever they decide, Samsung needs to integrate voice, video and personalization so consumers can see all of the benefits of AI working together.
A big gamble Samsung could make is pushing AI proactively, instead of having users initiate it. Today, most AI interactions are initiated by the person and Samsung could take a big leap in having their AI prompt the consumer at different times of the day. Maybe Bixby asks you questions about if you have everything in the morning or sends you reminders throughout the day.
Finally, Samsung could position their ecosystem to consumers as always evolving and being on the forefront of technology. Similar to how Tesla continuously pushes updates to their cars, Samsung could talk about how it will constantly push updates to its ecosystem as they improve their AI and develop new features. A surprise and delight, but for AI. By being in the Samsung ecosystem, a consumer will always be able to reap the benefits of evolving AI.
Whatever it is, Samsung needs to get people excited about their AI, before Alexa shows up everywhere.