Samsung’s planned Bixby smart speaker will arrive “later this year,” according to comments made by company CEO, DJ Koh. Speaking to CNET at the Samsung Galaxy S9 launch event, Koh confirmed the Bixby speaker and said that it would be coming to market inside 2018.
Samsung’s DJ Koh also talked at length about Bixby’s roll in upcoming Samsung products to ZDNet. The Samsung exec confirmed the Galaxy Note 9 and the company’s incoming Smart Speaker, which will use Bixby at its core, rather than Google’s Assistant.
“Expanding the ecosystem was difficult. So Bixby 2.0 will strengthen this aspect and we are working intensely. Bixby won’t be tied to a specific device. The ultimate goal is to make it ubiquitous,” DJ Koh added.
“Samsung is unique in that it has TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, phones, PCs, and almost every consumer electronics. We also make the module chips that goes in them needed in IoT. AI speaker will also be one among them.”
We heard talk of a Bixby-powered Samsung smart speaker earlier in the year, but it’s been a while since anything new has emerged on the subject. Now, according to fresh reports, the Korean firm is prepping the smart speaker – which previous leaks said was codenamed “Vega” – for launch inside the first half of 2018; this is according to word from Bloomberg.
At present Google and Amazon dominate the market with the Google Home and Amazon Echo respectively, both firms have placed their main products with a competetive and affordable price point, but have also offered even more affordable variants with the Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot as well. Google announced the Google Home Max earlier this year, a premium edition at a higher price point and with better audio tech, which is poised to hit the market very soon.
It’s at this higher Google Home Max tier, alongside the likes of the Apple HomePod, where Samsung will apparently position the Vega (of course it’ll hit the market with a different name). Samsung still intends to offer its speaker for a lower price than Apple’s setup, however, in spite of packing the Vega with some high-end audio equipment. It will allegedly retail for around $200, about half the price of the HomePod, but definitely in the Google Home Max’s territory.
Audio quality is just one aspect of the package that Samsung will need to get right, however. Although consumer feedback on audio quality for the Amazon Echo and Google Home has lead Google by the nose towards producing a better sound system in the Google Home Max, a major propellant in the success of both Google and Amazon’s offerings has been the excellent AI and voice capabilities driving the whole experience – Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, respectively.
Samsung’s working with Bixby, which to date, aboard the Galaxy S8 series and Galaxy Note 8, hasn’t recieved a great deal of positive feedback. It took Samsung a very long time simply to roll-out the English speaking version of Bixby to much of the world, following its initial launch purely in Korean. All the major OEMs are in the same boat of gradually rolling out different language support over time, but Samsung is further back in the line at this point and so far the actual capabilities of Bixby don’t seem to impress as much as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so there’s a lot of catching up to do in this regard.
To compete with the existing smart speakers on the market, Samsung’s device will similarly be able to sync with various Smart devices, including TV sets, Samsung Galaxy products, and SmartThings brand home products.
Allegedly Samsung’s prototype is similar in size to the Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo; it has a matte black finish and has some LED light portions for visual indication. A touch display was considered during development but does not appear to be making the final cut. Other colours are being considered for launch too, as it’s said Samsung understands that as an item in the home, the speaker may need to blend in or match different tastes.
I think Samsung is onto the right idea in terms of hitting that high audio quality point, and the price certainly seems about right to me also – although apparently Samsung isn’t locked down on that and could change the price by launch.
The only potential fly in the ointment is the actual user experience and the capabilities of the AI; having tried out Bixby, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa on various devices, I know right now which ones I would go for for a home speaker setup, and Samsung doesn’t make the cut.
Of course, I could be convinced if it makes big changes between now and launch some time in the first half of next year.
We’ll just have to wait and see.