Last week, Voicebot.ai reported that Adam Cheyer, a founding member of the startups that built both Siri and Bixby, had left Samsung after a two-year stint at the company. Cheyer corroborated the report today, telling VentureBeat he has no next plans yet.
Cheyer’s departure coincides with a minor exodus from the Bixby voice assistant team at Samsung. At least seven people left between January and April, including lead conversation designer Robbie Pickard, senior engineer Theo Gravity, and senior director David Oh, according to Voicebot.ai. Perhaps not coincidentally, Reuters and Bloomberg recently reported that Samsung is considering dropping Bixby from its mobile devices as part of a new revenue-sharing deal with Google.
Samsung told Bloomberg that it remains committed to its own services and ecosystem. Google said in a statement it regularly discusses ways to improve the user experience with partners and that Samsung remains free to create its own digital assistant.
Bixby has long struggled to gain a foothold against competition like Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri. According to a survey conducted last year, only 4% of U.S. adults said they used Bixby on their smartphone, compared with 44% who used Siri and 30% who used Google Assistant. Meanwhile, companies like Amazon and Google have cornered the smart speaker market, with 26.2% and 20.3% 2019 market share, respectively.
Some of the wounds are self-inflicted. Two years after unveiling the Bixby-powered smart speaker Galaxy Home, Samsung has yet to bring it to market, due to repeated delays. A smaller sibling dubbed the Galaxy Home Mini is undergoing beta testing in South Korea and only briefly broke cover at a device demo wall at the 2019 Samsung Developer Conference.
In an apparent acknowledgment of Bixby’s second-class status, Samsung quietly replaced Bixby Home — a page on Galaxy phones that shows reminders, news, and weather — with a lookalike dubbed Samsung Daily in its One UI 2.0 Android skin. After years of fighting community efforts to enable remapping of the Bixby button on Samsung handsets, the company caved and provided an official means of doing so. Perhaps most telling of all, the Note10 and S20 series lack any dedicated Bixby button.
Just because Bixby is ceding the spotlight doesn’t mean it won’t be waiting in the wings, of course. Samsung often points out that the more than 500 million appliances, smart TVs, phones, tablets, and more it sells globally each year are technically “Bixby-ready,” meaning they’re either compatible with Bixby or natively run the assistant. In November, Samsung announced that Bixby is available on 160 million devices around the world.
Cheyer previously led the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes (CALO) project at SRI International’s Artificial Intelligence Center, which sought to integrate cutting-edge machine learning techniques with a platform-agnostic cognitive assistant. Apple acquired Siri for $200 million in 2010. Cheyer then spent a number of years at Viv Labs incubating an assistant platform designed to handle complex queries and in 2016 helped launch Viv Labs out of stealth.
Samsung acquired Viv Labs in October 2016 for roughly $215 million and soon after tasked Cheyer and colleagues with building their startup’s technology into the company’s Bixby assistant, which rolled out in March 2017 alongside the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+. The fruit of their labor — Bixby 2.0 — debuted in October 2017 at Samsung’s Bixby Developer Conference and formally launched on the Galaxy Note9 in August 2018.
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