Samsung Buys Viv

I checked my inbox this morning and found some amazing news. Apparently Samsung has purchased Viv; you can read the Samsung press announcement. The reason I see this as amazing news is that it’s something that I never expected would happen. I met with Viv’s founders a little less than a year ago, before their public demo, and they assured me that they felt that Viv would be the last jobs they ever had.

More importantly, this acquisition is going to have a huge, negative impact on the effectiveness and overall reach of Viv.

As I listened to Viv’s founders discuss what they were making, it was clear to me that in order for them to be successful, they couldn’t let themselves be bought by anyone. I imagine with certainty that both Apple and Google made attempts to acquire Viv, but to join either of those companies would limit their ability to be the ‘Global AI’ they said they wanted to be.

As I’ve written before, the issue I have with Alexa, Cortana, Google Now (now Google Assistant), and Siri is that these solutions are code-locked, they can only do what they’re directly coded to do. Each solution gets a little bit of flexibility from leveraging search to create a response when they don’t have a pre-coded solution to a problem, but at the end of the day, any interesting transactions ANY of those solutions deliver, only happen because someone has coded the transaction.

Google Assistant, demonstrated this week by Google, is a little better than the other solutions in that it maintains some context, a short term memory of recent interactions or direct access to the smartphone screen, to help it deliver more interesting results.

Viv, on the other hand, delivers transactions, any kind of transaction, because it knows what you want and it knows what it knows and can stitch it all together, no matter how complex, to deliver the goods. That is, well, was, a game changer for me.

Not anymore.

I understand why Samsung wanted Viv; they want to create the best interactive consumer devices, and owning Viv is a great way to do that. Unfortunately, with Viv as an independent entity, Viv’s capabilities would have been available ANYWHERE. Your car, office, smartphone, garage door opener, newspaper box, and more could all have had intelligence added to them by leveraging Viv. At the same time, you’d also see Google, Apple, Microsoft all license Viv to add an extra layer of interaction to their services. Companies and third party developers would augment Viv’s AI; it would be made available through devices and services all over the world and you’d only have one system to learn, one set of preferences to manage, and universal access to everything.

Not anymore.

Viv’s sale to Samsung will take them out of the market and you’ll only find Viv’s capabilities in Samsung devices and the limited subset of device manufacturers who license the technology.

The quality of your dynamically assembled experiences will vary depending on whether you’re working with Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana, or Siri. You’ll have to learn the command interfaces of each, deal with voice recognition idiosyncrasies of each, and won’t be able to stitch together actions based on previous activities if they were done through different services. You definitely won’t have a single set of preferences you can manage, you’ll have to train each service to understand your specific needs. Sigh.

It’s interesting for Dag and the other folks at Viv – once again, they build a company and sell it before ever really going to market. It doesn’t suck to be them.