Last week Voicebot.ai reported that Adam Cheyer, a founding member of the startups that built both Siri and Bixby, had left Samsung after two years with the company. Cheyer himself confirmed the report today and told VentureBeat that he had no future plans.
Cheyer’s departure coincides with a small exodus from the Bixby Voice Assistant team at Samsung. According to Voicebot.ai, at least seven people left between January and April, including lead conversation designer Robbie Pickard, lead engineer Theo Gravity, and lead director David Oh. Perhaps coincidentally, Reuters and Bloomberg recently reported that Samsung is considering removing Bixby from its mobile devices under a new revenue sharing agreement with Google.
Samsung told Bloomberg that it remains committed to its own services and ecosystem. Google said in a statement that it is regularly discussing ways to improve the user experience with partners and that Samsung continues to have the ability to create its own digital assistant.
Bixby has long struggled to gain a foothold against rivals like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri. According to a survey conducted last year, only 4% of U.S. adults said they used Bixby on their smartphones, compared to 44% who used Siri and 30% who used Google Assistant. Meanwhile, companies like Amazon, Google and even Alibaba have conquered the market for smart speakers with a market share of 24.5%, 1
Some of the wounds are self inflicted. Two years after the introduction of the Galaxy Home, a smart speaker with a Bixby drive, Samsung still has to bring it to the market after repeated delays. A smaller sibling named Galaxy Home Mini is undergoing a beta test in South Korea and only briefly broke cover at a device demo wall at the Samsung Developer Conference 2019.
In a way, as confirmation of Bixby’s second-class status, Samsung quietly replaced Bixby Home – a page on Galaxy phones that shows reminders, news, and weather – with a look that Samsung Daily had in its One UI 2.0 Android -Skin is called. After years of efforts by the community to allow the Bixby button to be reassigned to their handsets, Samsung relented and provided an official tool. And perhaps the most significant is that the Note10 and S20 series do not lack a key of their own.
Just because Bixby gives the limelight doesn’t mean, of course, that it isn’t waiting in the starting blocks. Samsung often points out that the more than 500 million devices, smart TVs, phones, tablets and more that are sold worldwide each year are technically “Bixby-enabled”, which means that they are either compatible with Bixby or run the wizard natively. And in November, Samsung announced that Bixby is available on 160 million devices worldwide.
Cheyer previously led the CALO project (Cognitive Assistant that learns and organizes) at SRI International’s Artificial Intelligence Center, which strives to integrate state-of-the-art machine learning techniques into a platform-independent cognitive assistant. After taking over Siri in 2010 for $ 200 million, Apple helped launch Viv Labs in 2016, where he spent years developing an assistant platform to handle complex queries.
Samsung acquired Viv for around $ 215 million in October 2016 and soon hired Cheyer and colleagues to incorporate their startup’s technology into the company’s Bixby Assistant, which was launched in March 2017 along with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 +. The fruits of their work – Bixby 2.0 – were presented at the Samsung Bixby Developer Conference in October 2017 and officially presented on the Galaxy Note9 in August 2018.