Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Samsung Targets First Half of 2018 for Smart Speaker

  • Company considering undercutting Apple with price around $200
  • Speaker to run Bixby and focus on sound quality, home devices

Samsung Electronics Co. is aiming to introduce a smart speaker in the first half of 2018, entering a crowded field of voice-controlled devices from Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc., people briefed on the plans said.

The device by the South Korean technology giant will have a strong focus on audio quality and the management of connected home appliances such as lights and locks, said the people, who asked not to be identified talking about private plans.

The gadget will run Bixby, Samsung’s digital assistant that rivals Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant. It will also synchronize with TVs, Galaxy smartphones and other Samsung devices, the people also said. Samsung declined to comment.

Just like Apple’s HomePod is a bulwark in the home, Samsung’s speaker will do the same for its ecosystem of devices and services, including SmartThings, which Samsung bought in 2014. It plans to make the device available in multiple markets, potentially including the U.S., and is weighing a price point around $200, the people said. Amazon’s flagship Echo speaker has a list price of $100, while Apple’s HomePod, which also has a sound quality focus, will cost $349 when it also goes on sale next year. 

Samsung’s pricing and release plans are still fluid and may change, the people familiar with the speaker’s development said. The company is still working on improving the device’s ability to conduct voice-based web searches, one of the people said.

Like Apple, Samsung is arriving late to a market that Amazon pioneered and Google soon joined. The speakers themselves don’t generate much profit for their manufacturers, but the voice assistants and services that are distributed through the devices are an important battleground over the future of human-computer interaction. 

Amazon makes money when people buy from its online store via Alexa on Echo gadgets. Google’s speakers extend its lucrative search engine into the home and helps it sells products like its music services. The HomePod will be a hub for Apple to lock in users to its HomeKit smart home platform and will likely help the company increase subscriptions to its own music service.

According to Gartner, voice-activated speakers will become a $3.5 billion market by 2021, up from $720 million in 2016. That’s dwarfed by the smartphone business. However, many homes are likely to have multiple speakers for different rooms, giving tech companies more access points to lock them into their other services.

In August, Samsung executive DJ Koh said the company was working on a smart speaker without sharing details. Patrick Chomet, another Samsung executive who joined last year, is heading the project, a person familiar with the company’s work said.

One prototype version of the Samsung speaker in testing is between the size of Amazon’s latest Echo and the HomePod, one of the people said. The company is considering releasing the speaker in different colors, and the prototype seen had a matte black color. It also, like the HomePod, lacks a screen but lights up on top for limited visual feedback. In the past, Samsung has considered developing a speaker with a touchscreen similar to Amazon’s Echo Show, according to the person.

— With assistance by Sam Kim

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