A Samsung executive admitted on Wednesday that the mobile smartphone supplier is developing a smart speaker product that will soon be available, confirming months of speculation that the company was working on such a device to compete with the likes of Amazon Echo and Google Home, according to an interview with CNBC.
The interview with DJ Koh, the president of Samsung's mobile division, took place before the Wednesday launch event for Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 8 smartphone, and came about a month after local reports in Samsung’s native South Korea suggested that the company had halted its development of an Echo competitor.
The smart speaker reportedly would be activated and controlled through Samsung’s Bixby virtual assistant, which is also available on Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Note 8 devices.
It has long been thought that Samsung was developing a smart speaker similar to Amazon Echo, but the future of those developments came into doubt in recent months. First, the Bixby virtual assistant was not ready by the time the Galaxy S8 went on the market, and second, the Korea Herald published a report stating the company was no longer pursuing plans for a smart speaker.
Weeks before the report out of South Korea, the Wall Street Journal reported that Samsung was still working on the smart speaker, but that the project was taking longer than expected. According to a company press release earlier this week, Samsung also said that it is planning to expand availability of Bixby to more than 200 countries and territories, suggesting that any previous technical challenges have been conquered.
While the interview with Koh puts some doubts about the company’s smart speaker effort to rest, it is still not exactly clear what Samsung has planned for the smart speaker product. He offered no details about the product itself, and told CNBC a slightly non-committal, "Maybe soon we will announce it."
Depending on how soon "soon" is, Samsung’s take on the smart speaker could be coming into a world that not only includes the dominant Amazon Echo and its wide-ranging device family, as well as Google Home, but also the Apple Homepod, which is powered by Siri and is due out later this year. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has also reportedly been developing a similar product.
Samsung, like other tech giants, has visions of playing a role in the rapidly expanding market for smart home devices, applications and networks. As a device maker, the company has a virtual assistant that it can scale up fairly quickly by including the tech on future smartphones. That being said, by the time Samsung's speaker shows up in the market, it will have a lot of catching up to do as it fights for even a small chunk of market share.