Innovation of the Week: Samsung bets on AI technology to rekindle its smartphone prospects | Crain's Silicon Valley

Innovation of the Week: Samsung bets on AI technology to rekindle its smartphone prospects

The real appeal of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 smartphone may be its voice-controlled digital assistant, dubbed Bixby. | Photo courtesy Samsung

Months after recalling more than 2 million smartphones due to widespread reports of fiery explosions, Samsung is hoping to regain its market mojo with the introduction of its Galaxy S8.

The company’s new flagship smartphone sports many flashy hardware features designed to lure back disaffected customers. However, the real appeal of the device may be its voice-controlled digital assistant, dubbed Bixby. Bixby promises to outdo incumbent technologies like Apple’s Siri by adding artificial-intelligence-based object recognition technology.

Bixby does the kind of tasks that users of digital assistants would be familiar with, such as delivering a weather forecast or reading a sports score. However, Bixby’s AI technology also can use the phone’s camera to identify an item in the real world—such as a landmark—and then recognize where that item is and provide information about it.

This same technology can be used to identify products, enabling internet commerce. For example, if a user is enjoying a bottle of wine in a restaurant, Bixby can track down information related to the wine on the Internet. Bixby then could help the user to purchase that brand of wine online.

“The visual aspect of Bixby is a really intelligent approach,” said wireless analyst, Dale Ford. “Bringing visual into it—going from audio to video in any setting—opens up an exponential increase in power associated with that.”

However, Ford warned that Samsung needs to be careful not to limit Bixby’s product identification and online commerce capabilities to its own offerings.

“As long as they give support and guidance that’s not too biased or too skewed, Samsung should do well with Bixby,” Ford observed. “They can’t freeze out competitors like Amazon in favor of what they want to steer consumers to. Consumers will say no to that.”

For Samsung, the S8 could represents a chance for redemption.

Samsung in September recalled the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after about 100 incidences of the device’s battery overheating and sometimes catching fire. The debacle had a far-reaching impact on Samsung, causing a decline in sales that helped Apple surpass Samsung as the world’s top smartphone seller in the fourth quarter. 

“The Galaxy S8 is our testament to regaining your trust by redefining what’s possible in safety and marks a new milestone in Samsung’s smartphone legacy,” said DJ Koh, president of mobile communications business, Samsung Electronics, in a press-release quote.

Initial reactions to the S8 indicate Samsung may have taken the first step toward rehabilitating its image.

“Samsung has got nowhere to go but up,” Ford noted. “It can’t get any worse than to have to tell customers that they can’t take the product with them on an airplane because of fire concerns. However, the S8 is getting positive initial reviews from analysts and journalists, which is a really great sign for them.”

Beyond Bixby, the Galaxy S8 is getting rave reviews for its “infinity display”, which uses a curved screen that wraps around the lateral edges of the devices. The display spans nearly the entirety of the face of the S8, giving the phone a sleek appearance.

Other notable features include face and retina recognition and a 12-megapixel real camera.

March 29, 2017 - 6:03pm