The creators of Siri sold their new company to Samsung

Image: Reuters/Luke MacGregor
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“Hey Siri, are you ready for more competition?”

Samsung announced Oct. 5 that it had acquired Viv, a voice recognition and artificial intelligence software company. Viv was founded in 2012 by Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham, the creators of Siri, the digital assistant software that Apple acquired in 2010. Soon after Apple integrated the group’s technology into its iOS mobile operating system, iOS, the team left to start Viv. The team showed off their first demonstration of the software earlier this year, with Kittlaus calling it an “intelligent interface for everything.”

The technology allows users to ask complicated, multifaceted questions of the software, have it understand the queries, then provide useful information. It can also respond to follow-up questions on the same topic, without having to be reminded of what it was talking about. Siri, on the other hand, still can’t seem to ever understand what we’re saying.

Samsung said in a release that Viv will “remain under independent leadership,” but will work closely with the company’s mobile communications division. “The deal showcases Samsung’s commitment to virtual personal assistants and is part of the company’s broader vision to deliver an AI-based open ecosystem across all of its devices and services,” Samsung added.

In recent years, the technology in smartphones has become increasingly commoditized, and the differentiating factors between handsets ever more gimmicky. Actually useful voice assistants are hard to come by, but they could well become an important selling point for consumer electronics devices in the near future. “Soon, we’ll all have a trusted assistant that is a regular part of our everyday lives,” Kittlaus said in a Medium post about Viv’s acquisition. “We deeply believe this to be true. This assistant will be as ubiquitous and important as the web browser or the mobile app.”

Like Samsung, Google, too, is banking on virtual assistants. On Tuesday, the company unveiled its first homegrown smartphone, the Google Pixel, which will contain features not found on rival smartphones manufactured using Google’s Android mobile operating system. One of those is a Viv-like assistant called Google Assistant that can answer follow-up questions, and is meant to provide a personalized experience for each user.

Google also revealed its intention to dominate the living room at Tuesday’s event, using Google Assistant as the controller for Home–its smart-home conduit through which it wants all internet-of-things technology to flow. Samsung, which believes it’s at the forefront of IoT with its SmartThings division, presumably could utilize Viv’s technology to build its own controller for the home.

As Google looks to build a hardware division that could potentially rival Apple and Samsung, manufacturers may have to start looking for new ways to differentiate themselves from Google’s own offerings. Samsung’s acquisition of Viv seems to fit into this, assuming the technology becomes something consumers actually want.

But perhaps, for now at least, Samsung should be foremost concerning itself with making sure its devices don’t spontaneously combust.