It’s easy to forget that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) didn’t create Siri — the company’s personal digital assistant — in house. Instead, the company bought Siri in 2010. But the Siri co-founders left and launched Viv, a powerful, next-generation AI platform. Now, AAPL rival Samsung Electronics KRW5000 (OTCMKTS:SSNLF) has acquired Viv.
At the time Apple bought Siri, it was an app that acted as a virtual mobile assistant when installed on an iPhone. While the theory at the time was that AAPL’s acquisition was about mobile search, Siri became much more.
Today, Siri is Apple’s entry in the increasingly important role of personal digital assistant. It competes against the likes of Microsoft Corporation’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Cortana and Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) latest effort, Google Assistant.
However, after Siri was integrated into iOS, becoming a key feature of the iPhone 4s, the company’s founders left Apple. Since then, Siri has continued to evolve and to expand (it’s now found on the Mac desktop), but that growth has been incremental.
Viv and the Importance of AI
Artificial intelligence — or AI — is becoming increasingly important to tech companies. Among other things, AI means those personal digital assistants can get a lot smarter. Google’s big hardware event from a few days ago showcased this new reality.
The common theme running through its new Pixel smartphones, Google Home connected speaker and even the Google WiFi mesh routers is AI. Artificial intelligence powers Google Assistant, taking it beyond the capabilities of Siri. And AI is always working in the background to make Google’s products more effective.
The creators of Siri — Dag Kittlaus, Adam Cheyer and Chris Brigham — left Apple and in 2012 founded Viv, an AI startup. At the time, Kittlaus wrote a post for TechCrunch titled “Siri is Only the Beginning” that hinted at the team’s goals.
Virtual assistants were going to get a lot smarter than Siri, backed by the power of AI.
There were hopes that Apple would buy Viv, bringing the Siri creators back into the fold and incorporating the new AI technology to blast past Cortana and Google Assistant with a next generation Siri.
Instead, Samsung has acquired Viv.
The reasoning behind the Viv acquisition makes perfect sense for Samsung. The company has no virtual assistant of its own. Its smartphones and tablets mostly run Android. Google’s move into Pixel smartphones that compete against Samsung’s Galaxy lineup was a wakeup call. Pixel phones are built around Google Assistant and integrated in a way third party Android manufacturers like Samsung could never pull off. In fact, Google Assistant is a Pixel exclusive, at least for now.
With Viv, Samsung gets the technology for its own AI-powered virtual assistant. Samsung could also integrate Viv’s AI smarts into its other connected products, including smart appliances.
Why would Viv go with Samsung? When asked the question by TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino, Viv’s Dag Kittlaus cited the desire for his company’s AI technology to be everywhere: “They ship 500 million devices a year. You asked me onstage about what our real goal is, and I said ubiquity.”
What Does This Mean for the Future of Siri?
Samsung’s Viv acquisition has disappointed Apple watchers who were hoping for reconciliation and resulting quantum leap in Siri’s capability. Viv going to AAPL was only a possibility, though, far from a given.
In the meantime, not all the Siri team left with the creators and Apple has continued to improve its virtual assistant. The company has also begun to ramp up its AI investment, creating a Machine Learning division and snapping up startups in that space. Siri will get better as this AI technology is rolled in, it’s just not the fairy tale ending that integrating Viv offered.
Where things could really get interesting is in the Google versus Samsung struggle, which has been ongoing for years. Viv taking on Google Assistant is just the latest arena where the two “frenemies” are poised to go head-to-head, and Google’s new Pixel smartphones have thrown gasoline on that fire.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.