Samsung seeks redemption with AI-infused smartphone

A Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Halloween costume.
A Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Halloween costume.

Seoul - Samsung plans to equip its next Galaxy S smartphones with a Siri-like digital assistant, seeking to make a comeback after the global debacle that precipitated the death of its flawed Note 7 lineup.

Samsung, which last month acquired US-based artificial-intelligence software company Viv Labs, said the Galaxy S8 slated for next year will come with AI-enabled features “significantly differentiated” from those of Apple's Siri or Google, executive vice president  Rhee In-jong told reporters. Those services now offer up potentially useful information from the weather to flight times based on user activity.

The flagship Galaxy S line will prove crucial to salvaging Samsung’s reputation in the wake of the fiasco surrounding a Note 7 device prone to bursting into flame. The recall and eventual cessation of the line is estimated to cost upwards of $6bn and pushed profits at its mobile division to a record low in the September quarter. The company is now investigating the root cause behind the fires, but wouldn’t comment on progress so far.

“It will be significantly differentiated from the current services we see in the market now,” Rhee said of the S8’s features. He said last month the company plans to embed Viv’s technology in other electronics and home appliances beyond phones.

Samsung shares rose 1.1% in Seoul trading on Monday and had gained 29% this year before today.

Global technology players are vying to build devices attuned to users’ lifestyles and daily behavior. Amazon is trying to sign up more developers for its Alexa voice technology, while Apple has recently touted more Siri capabilities and opened the technology to other developers. Google, considered the leader in artificial intelligence, is making its own push.

Samsung is now getting into the game. It releases new versions of its top-tier Galaxy S series sometime in the first quarter of every year, typically during the Mobile World Congress in Spain. With the Note 7 line now defunct, the S8 will become its de facto showcase smartphone.

The company is keen to put the Note 7 behind it and resuscitate its business. Samsung reported a sharp decline in profit as the Note 7 recall took its toll. Net income fell 17% to 4.41 trillion won ($3.9bn) in the third quarter, bringing its mobile profit to a historic low of 100 billion won.

Samsung suffered a separate setback with a different product last week. The company is recalling about 2.8 million washing machines in the US amid reports that the top of the machine can become detached during use. Samsung said in a November 4 statement that it will offer consumers a free in-home repair of the machine, or a rebate that can be used when consumers buy a new machine. For more recent purchases, consumers can get a full refund.

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