Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Home yesterday, a Bixby-enabled speaker, which garnered public attention not for its arrival, but for its bewildering design. The device is supposed to be Samsung’s entry into the high-end smart speaker market, meant to take on the Apple HomePod. And while there’s still a lot we don’t yet know, such as price and availability, one thing’s for sure: it doesn’t look like a speaker.
Some might say it looks like the Google Home’s cousin that got held back a few years in school. You might also say it’s evil-looking. Why is it so dark? Why does it have three legs? Is it to possibly protect Samsung against the debacle with Apple’s HomePod launch, where speakers were reportedly staining wooden tables with white rings?
Whatever the case, it’s going to be fine, Galaxy Home. Why look like a speaker when you can be any of these wonderful things?
Step aside, Samsung, Sony, LG, and Apple, there’s a new king of the consumer tech business, and its name is SHAASUIVG. This literally unbelievable new brand has cropped up on Chinese online store Pinduoduo, offering eyebrow-raising deals such as a 55-inch 4K TV for a mere ¥388 (or around $57). What’s most impressive about it, though, is the bold and courageous logo design. Using some creative kerning and daringly varied font weights, SHAASUIVG resembles the familiar SAMSUNG insignia at first glance. What an amazing coincidence.
Pinduoduo, which began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange two weeks ago at an initial valuation of more than $23 billion, has earned itself an unenviable reputation as a home for counterfeit goods. Quartz and Bloomberg have both taken in-depth looks at the high volume of trade in shady consumers electronics on the shopping platform, wagging their disapproving fingers at China’s entrepreneurial hustle. The country’s regulators are also taking the matter seriously, with Bloomberg reporting that an investigation is about to get underway into the trade in obvious fakes on Pinduoduo. The serious edge to all this unregulated and unmoderated e-commerce is that Pinduoduo also hosts sellers of food and baby products, which are categories of goods with a far greater risk than a TV that may or may not have all the specs printed on its box.
Still, there’s something in me that just loves the ingenuity and sheer chutzpah it takes for someone to chop up the Samsung logo and assemble a brand name from the fragments.
Samsung announced today at its Unpacked 2018 event that its new Galaxy Note 9 will arrive with Bixby 2.0. It will be Samsung’s first smartphone device that will have an upgraded version of Bixby out of the box, which the company says will be better at processing natural language, predicting user needs, and offering quicker response times.
Samsung demoed some of Bixby’s new skills onstage, showing that it’s now possible to have more natural conversations with it. If, for example, you asked Bixby about what concerts are happening in Brooklyn over Labor Day weekend, you could then follow up with another question like “What about the first weekend in October?” without requalifying the context. This is the same sort of functionality that was announced for Amazon’s Alexa earlier this year.
Bixby should now be more in tune with recommending things based on your individual preferences. If you ask Bixby for a new restaurant to go to, it will show you options based on the type of places you’ve made reservations at in the past. So, if you tend to prefer French restaurants, it should deliver those options first. Then, when making the reservation, Bixby will autofill in fields like time and number of people in your party also based on how you’ve made decisions in the past. The update will also allow users to call Uber rides or browse nearby events. All of this, according to Samsung, is meant to make Bixby a more personal experience.
One falter for the Bixby demo was speed. While earlier promises said Bixby 2.0 would have faster response times, the tech appeared slow to respond to prompts and commands onstage. It was so slow, in fact, that after showing off one feature, a Samsung executive had to prompt the audience with “You can clap.” Of course, an onstage demonstration hiccup isn’t uncommon, so it will take more testing to determine how much faster Bixby has gotten with the update.
Bixby 2.0 was first announced in October 2017 at its developer conference in San Francisco. At the time, Samsung said that this new version of Bixby will “act as the control hub of your device ecosystem,” which includes things like phones, TVs, and speakers.
The updated Bixby comes at a time when there is already stiff competition in the marketplace of digital assistants, like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and even Cortana, which is on every Windows PC and available on mobile. It also doesn’t help that when Bixby was first launched with the Galaxy S8 last year, it was poorly received. It wasn’t really useful in comparison to other assistants, it initially came with sexist descriptor tags for different speaking styles, and it was so easy to accidentally trigger that Samsung eventually had to disable the dedicated Bixby button on its recent Galaxy devices.
While it’s unclear whether Bixby 2.0 will improve anything to the point of even coming close to Alexa or Google Assistant, these changes should hopefully make Bixby handier and less frustrating to use.