Samsung continued living its Apple dream this week. According to TechCrunch, the South Korean conglomerate purchased Viv, a next-generation artificial intelligence created by three of Siri’s creators.
Viv is an exciting technology, an AI designed to be extensible. Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham—all Siri veterans, left Apple within a few years of Siri’s purchase. Viv was announced in 2014 and unveiled in May of 2016. Terms of Samsung’s purchase haven’t been released.
Here’s the original Viv demonstration, which was given on a MacBook Pro running Yosemite.
It seemed fairly obvious that Viv would be purchased by a larger company at some point. Serial entrepreneurs follow a certain pattern, and products like Viv or Siri are best used when leveraged across a big platform.
Of course, Samsung doesn’t have a platform. Instead, Samsung has delusions of software relevance in the smartphone space. At its heart, Samsung’s smartphone business is merely an Android OEM, with redundant and often tacky software services plastered on top of Android. It’s the largest Android OEM, but that doesn’t make it a platform.
But, Dag Kittlaus thinks differently. And to be fair, Mr. Kittlaus is fabulously more successful than me and probably knows what he’s talking about and doing. He told TechCrunch that Samsung would be a good corporate parent because his goal with Viv is to achieve ubiquity. From TechCrunch:
They ship 500 million devices a year. You asked me onstage about what our real goal is, and I said ubiquity. If you take a look around what’s going on in the market these days, and our readiness to really expand on our distribution, it made perfect sense when we discovered that our visions are so completely aligned, and our assets using the core technology in this huge distribution, the opportunity that now is the right time, and Samsung’s the right partner.
Dollars to donuts says the Viv team is gone in three years to start up Fran or maybe Betty. I don’t mean that in a snarky way. Visionaries want to revolutionize, not iterate. When technologies like Siri or Viv get acquired, the acquirer usually needs it to be iteratively improved. In the tech world, in particular, that usually means the visionary founders leave once their contractual vesting period is over. Seems likely to happen again, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
The idea behind the acquisition is that Viv will continue to operate as a standalone company, and provide services to Samsung’s 500 million devices per year. Never mind that most of those devices are little better than feature phones. And never mind that Google is getting serious about being a whole widget provider.
I’m torn on this acquisition, to be honest. Viv is very promising. Mr. Kittlaus and his team are the bee’s knees. But I am entirely dismissive about Samsung’s me-too services. Viv is hardly me-too in and of itself, but it seems it would have the most value to an operating system maker, not a hardware OEM.
I could be wrong. Maybe Vivsung will be the thing to turn Smasung’s delusions of software relevance into something real.