Remapping Samsung’s Shitty Features, Denied

Sammobile has a headline that caught my eye: ‘Samsung has a legitimate reason to block Bixby button remapping, whether we like it or not’

This headline is interesting because it highlights a big difference between iOS and Android users: Android users expect to be able to make hacks around crappy features like Samsung’s Bixby and the dedicated Bixby button.

I wrote about how half-baked Bixby was when it debuted a few months ago.

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Interface

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“Bixby, get back in the kitchen and make me a goddamn sandwich!”

Samsung adds and swiftly removes sexist Bixby descriptor tags:

Samsung’s new voice assistant Bixby has finally arrived, and unfortunately, it was accompanied by sexist descriptions for its male and female voice options.

Under “language and speaking style” in the Bixby menu, as several have pointed out on Twitter, the female voice was accompanied by descriptive tags such as “chipper, clear, and cheerful,” while the male voice was described as “assertive, confident, and clear.” After it was spotted and dissent circulated online, Samsung said it would remove the gendered hashtags, telling Gizmodo it is “working diligently to remove the hashtag descriptions from the Bixby service,” and it is “constantly learning from customer feedback.”

The subtitle to this article is “Why does this keep happening”.

I can’t tell you why this keeps happening but I’ll tell you this: the Korean-American women I know personally refuse to date Korean men from Korea because of their — pick your adjective — outdated, sexist, and/or backwards views on the roles of men and women.

via Daring Fireball

Categories:

Technology, Words

“Compared directly against Google Assistant, Bixby Voice is in for some embarrassing showdowns.”

Samsung has released a preview of their AI assistant ‘Bixby’ to beta testers:

First things first. If you registered to be a beta tester, make sure you’re running the current version of Bixby by going to its “about” screen. Download any updates that appear there. I also had to clear the data and cache for Bixby apps in my S8+’s settings screen before Bixby Voice appeared. Once it does, you’ll get a tutorial that involves teaching you how to trigger the voice feature and then teaching it to recognize your voice.

This already sounds like a great user experience. Clearing cache, tutorials. Bixby sounds even more beta than Siri was went Apple launched it.

Even the essential task of text messaging someone is surprisingly hard to pull off. For one, you’ve got to use Samsung’s Messages app as your default SMS app. And if you don’t word things exactly right, it won’t happen. “Text mom and ask ‘how are you’” sent me to a Google search. “Send a text to mom and ask ‘how are you’” worked — but still necessitated a few taps to fire off the message. What’s the point of voice, then? Google Assistant nailed it with a single attempt.

One more nugget:

Compared directly against Google Assistant, Bixby Voice is in for some embarrassing showdowns. Until things get better, a lot of people will be asking “What’s the point?” I’m not really sure Bixby Voice saves you much in the way of time since it often runs through the same menus and screens you would with your finger when performing tasks.

Haha. Good luck with this, Samsung.

What I love most about this is that Samsung phones run on Android and Google already has Google Assistant which is way more advanced than Bixby, but Samsung wants to differentiate themselves from the sea of other Android phone manufacturers.

I suppose in that respect they’ve accomplished their mission.

“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

Since I’m a human, and we humans love to focus on the negative things around us, even if things are great, I’m going to point out what I think is one of the dumbest feature placements on a phone I’ve ever seen.

Samsung has decided it was a good idea to place the fingerprint reader on the back of the new Galaxy 8, right next to the camera lens:

To make it extra confusing, the fingerprint reader appears to have very similar contours and shape to the camera lens. What this means is, as you fumble your finger around the back of your Galaxy 8 to tap the fingerprint reader, there’s a high likelihood you’ll be smudging up your camera lens in the process.

The reason Samsung is merely dreaming of overcoming Apple, and not actually doing it, is because of shitty decisions like this.

Maybe next year, Samsung. Maybe next year.

No Speaky to Bixby

Samsung says Bixby voice assistant won’t ship with Galaxy S8:

One of the key signature features of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, its Bixby voice assistant, won’t work out of the box, when the device goes on sale later this month. Other parts of Bixby, including its visual search and reminder abilities, will ship at launch, a Samsung representative told Axios in a statement.

Samsung really doesn’t like being reliant on Android to power all their mobile devices. Tizen is the most obvious example of this. TouchWiz is another. Bixby is the latest example.

What I want to know is if Samsung is truly invested in Bixby for the long-term?

Siri was very beta and had many problems when it first launched. Today it has much fewer, although it has a ways to go. Apple’s great at having the balls to ship 1.0 versions of products and then iterate year after year. Remember when everyone was bitching about the shitty colors, icons, and hard-to-read Helvetica Light in iOS 7? If you compare iOS 7 to iOS 10 you can see a lot has changed in four years.

Even if Samsung does decide to stick with Bixby, they have yet to prove they can ship top-quality software experiences on par with iOS and Android.

If Samsung is dreaming of overcoming Apple, they have some work ahead of them.

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They call it a dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.*

Over at The Verge, Dan Seifert has a interesting look into Samsung and their goals behind the new S8:

“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

With that simple, obvious statement, the air was sucked out of the large conference room in Samsung’s Suwon, South Korea, headquarters before the company even had a chance to show me the device I flew halfway across the world to see. It’s not often that you hear someone at Samsung actually verbalize the unsaid motivation for many of the company’s products — most executives won’t even mention Apple by name. Yet here was the company’s vice president of product strategy just blurting it out to a small group of journalists.

It seems marketshare isn’t always enough and doesn’t always make you feel like the best. It was only in Q4 2016 that Apple regained the #1 spot in market share. Before this past Q4 Samsung had been the reigning champ.

One of the S8’s flagship features is their new AI ‘bright sidekick’, Bixby:

It’s a smart play: Samsung knows it can’t compete with Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and others when it comes to raw machine learning power and putting vast amounts of information at your fingertips, so it’s using Bixby to solve a simpler task, one that those companies have largely ignored. Bixby isn’t going to try to be the everything-assistant. Instead, it will be that “bright sidekick” that complements those other services. It’s a new user interface, not a new way to ask how tall the Eiffel Tower is.

Wow, less capable than Siri and ‘Ok, Google’. Sounds like a must-have feature!

Seifert had a nagging thought that quelled his optimism for the S8:

As I watched brand-new S8 phones get bolted together on Samsung’s new production line in the Gumi factory, it was obvious that the company has a plan for designing great hardware in the wake of the Note 7 fiasco. But as much as I knew that the devices coming off that factory line would have amazing hardware and eye-catching design, I couldn’t escape a nagging thought.

I realized that there’s a thing that many pro users do when they get their hands on a new Samsung smartphone: they immediately disable as many of Samsung’s own apps and services as possible and replace them with Google’s versions. The appreciation for Samsung’s design and hardware rarely extends to its software efforts.

Samsung makes Android phones, so the only way (outside of hardware) they can distinguish themselves from all the other Android phone makers is to make a unique software experience and people are disabling their software features.

Ouch.

Good luck with that dream, Samsung.

*the title of this piece was borrowed from George Carlin

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Product, Technology

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Product review grading on a curve

Gadget reviews are broken on the big tech sites like The Verge, and Engadget. They’ve actually been broken for a long time. If you read the long form part of the reviews and then you see the ‘grade’ they give the devices, they don’t match up.

Take Chris Velazco’s review of the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier smartwatch for Engadget:

Samsung’s smartwatch formula, and the company threw in every feature it could think of. That rationale is Samsung through and through, and it makes the Gear S3 worthy of your consideration, even if now might not be the best time to buy a smartwatch.

So throwing every feature you can think of into a device is good user experience? Is this what makes people love their gadgets?

And why is now not the best time to buy a smartwatch? I’ve had my Apple Watch Series 2 for six months and it’s great. Perhaps Velazco meant not the best time to buy an Android smartwatch. It’s important to use the right words when you’re trying to convey your point. Be genuine.

With the Gear S3 Frontier, Samsung did a commendable job building a wearable with a little something for everyone. The device still falls short in a lot of ways, including its overzealous automatic fitness tracking and a limited app selection, even after a year. Still, with so few truly interesting smartwatch options out there, the Gear S3 can’t help but feel like a refreshing change of pace. If you’re in the market for a high-end wearable, the S3 is worth considering. Just remember: Android Wear 2.0 is coming early next year, so waiting for the next crop of watches is probably the smartest move.

Commendable is code for: “Nice try, kids, but not good enough.”

This review concludes the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier falls short in a lot of ways, has inaccurate fitness tracking, but since there aren’t any great Android smartwatches on the market this shitty smartwatch seems like a decent smartwatch and they give it a score of 80 of out 100.

How does a product that “falls short in a lot of ways” get a score of 80?

Velazco essentially graded the Frontier on a curve, with all the bad Android smartwatches raising the average for poor performers.

Great job.

Categories:

Product, Technology

On a Bad Note

AT&T and T-Mobile have halted all Samsung Note 7 distribution amid more reports of ‘safe’ models igniting.

Spontaneous combustion. I believe this is the first phone feature Samsung hasn’t copied from Apple. Well done, South Korea.

If you’re reading this and you still have a Samsung Note 7, the always helpful Jim Dalrymple has posted a must-have accessory. You’re so thoughtful, Jim.

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Product

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Samsung Phone Not Actually Water Resistant

Consumer Reports: Samsung phone not actually water resistant:

The problem appears limited to the Galaxy S7 Active, a rugged model available only through AT&T in the U.S. The standard S7 and S7 Edge models have the same claims on water resistance and passed tests.

Consumer Reports, a non-profit organization that is well respected for its product testing, said Friday that it can’t recommend the Active because it doesn’t meet Samsung’s own claims. By contrast, Consumer Reports rates the S7 and S7 Edge phones as “Excellent” for their displays, battery life and cameras.

Nice try, Samsung.

Categories:

Product

Windows PC History Repeats Itself

For four years Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has basked in the success of its Galaxy smartphones, making billions of dollars competing with Apple Inc in the premium mobile market.

The coming years are set to be more somber for the South Korean tech giant, as it is forced to slash prices and accept lower margins at its mobile division in order to see off competition from rivals including China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and Xiaomi Inc in the mid-to-low end of the market.

Behind Samsung’s reality-check is the fact it is stuck with the same Android operating system used by its low-cost competitors, who are producing increasingly-capable phones of their own.

Samsung glamour days over as it fights to save mobile market share, Se Young Lee, Reuters

Having Android running on everything from shitty, bottom-of-the-barrel phones to premium devices is great example of democratizing technology: getting it in everyone’s hands, regardless of income. But how do you differentiate your product if you’re an OEM?

You could argue that if Samsung had always just sold premium hardware they might have avoided having to make their current price cuts. The truth is they (and many other OEMs) have always thrown as many price tiers of Android devices to the wall to see what sticks. This has resulted in Android brand doesn’t conjure up thoughts of amazing, premium devices.

It’s as if Ferrari licensed their body panels and frame to other car makers to put whatever engines and electronics they wanted into them. Sure, you could find better/faster Ferrari versions than others but anyone could get a “Ferrari”.

Categories:

Technology

Samsunk

Samsung brings forward its Galaxy Note release to August to gain some ground against rival Apple:

In a break with recent tradition, Samsung Electronics Co. will move up the autumn launch of its oversize smartphone lineup by several weeks to mid-August, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The South Korean company’s move is part of a bid to give its Galaxy Note smartphone-tablet hybrids some breathing room before mid-September, when Apple Inc. typically unveils its refreshed iPhone—a product whose popularity has the potential to monopolize media and consumer attention for weeks.

Pussies.

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Product

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If consumers don’t see your brand as premium, then it’s not.

Over at Forbes, Ewan Spence on the pricing of the Samsung S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge:

Pricing details around Samsung’s Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge are starting to come out, with an expected street price in the UK of £550 for the SIM-free Galaxy S6 (and £650 for the Galaxy S6 Edge). While these prices are unconfirmed, they are higher than the entry-level competition of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.

Arguably the price difference could come down to Samsung running with 32 GB of storage compared to the 16 GB Apple has fitted to the iPhones, but I do like the idea of Samsung exploiting a higher price than Apple. If the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge handsets turn out to be more expensive than the Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, then Samsung will have some powerful arguments available to help sell the device.

Spence “likes the idea of Samsung exploiting a higher price than Apple.”

That’s cute.

Wait, Spence has more brilliance in his brain to share:

Now the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge have the advantage Samsung should push hard on the specifications battle. That will be helped by Apple essentially ducking the numbers fight, so Samsung should be able to play hard on the fact that the S6 is a more powerful phone with more features.

And the easiest way to say that a phone is ‘better’ than another phone is to be more expensive.

Is that the easiest way to say ‘better’? Just make it more expensive? Maybe Toyota should try that with their Corolla. Just add $10K to the price tag.

Premium pricing only works if your brand is perceived at premium and this perception is controlled by people who buy your products, not the company making them.

I don’t think this will prove a winning strategy for Samsung, but since they’re clearly in the game to copy everything Apple does, fuck it. Go for it, Samsung.

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Business

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Samsung: Copy? Yes. Transform? No. Combine? No.

There’s a great TED Talk with Kirby Feguson up on Vimeo’s Tumblr. It’s a 10-minute version of his awesome 4-part film series, Everything Is A Remix.

He starts off his presentation explaining how, at the height of his career, Bob Dylan was accused by “a small minority of dissenters” of stealing other peoples’ songs. He then fast-forwards to 2004 to talk about DJ Dangermouse’s The Grey Album, which was a remix of The Beatles The White Album and Jay-Z’s The Black Album.

The three techniques used to create these albums:

Copy. Transform. Combine.

But Ferguson says these techiques are not exclusive to music:

But I think these aren’t just the components of [music] remixing. I think these are the basic elements of all creativity. I think everything is a remix and I think this is a better way to conceive of creativity.

He then goes on to talk about the patent wars between smartphone manufacturers going on today. He calls out the apparent hypocrisy behind Steve Jobs’ intention “to go thermonuclear war” on Android for copying iOS and the iPhone when seen in the context of the original Macintosh being ‘inspired’ by the pinoneering work by Xerox PARC on the graphical user interface (GUI). To his credit, Ferguson talks about the theory of loss aversion–it’s ok when I copy another person’s work, but it’s not ok when someone else copies me (To use Ferguson’s language, Apple didn’t just copy the GUI work done at Xerox PARC, they combined and transformed it into something completely new with the Macintosh, but I’ll leave this for another post). Which leads me to Samsung.

Apple’s beef with Samsung isn’t that it stole Apple’s hardware and software—it’s that they copied Apple’s hardware, software, marketing and retail store design (via The Loop). Samsung has had no intention to remix anything they copied from Apple. Samsung’s intention with all of it’s Android smartphones has been to align as closely as possible with the look and feel of Apple products. Bob Dylan took melodies note-for-note from old folk songs, but you’re never confused. You always know it’s Dylan. This is because Dylan copied, transformed and remixed old media into something new.

Samsung stopped at copying and never bothered to remix anything. This is why many people confuse Samsung phones running Android for iPhones.

Update: Jim Dalrymple talked about this the other day too:

Apple had two blockbuster hit songs and Samsung stole them, note for note. That’s not right.

Microsoft and Palm also came out with smartphones after the iPhone. It’s interesting Jobs and Apple never went ‘thermonuclear’ on them like they did Samsung. I have a feeling this is because both Microsoft and Palm took the time to remix (in various degrees, Microsoft more than Palm) what Apple started with the iPhone. Does webOS look a lot like iOS? Absolutely. It has the DNA of the iPhone in it (Makes sense. The VP of hardware at Apple, Jon Rubinstein, became CEO at Palm/HP during that time). But if you’ve used a Palm Pre, you know it’s a Palm Pre. It has many characteristics unique to it, like cards and the Quick Wave Launcher.

Windows Phone 7 did the same thing, but they went even further. I’m not even sure you could say Microsoft even started with the Copy technique. They turned icons into tiles. They threw away drop shadows and gradients. They transformed the smartphone into something that makes sense to them.

Competition is important. Apple should not be the only company allowed to make multi touch smartphones and tablets, but to copy, almost pixel-for-pixel, what Apple has created is to concede Apple has done everything perfectly with iOS and the iPhone. The thing is, they haven’t. When a company creates a new smartphone they have the opportunity to remix what’s been done and present something fresh and new.

Maybe all Samsung wants is a product approaching ‘iPhone-ness’, but I’d like to think they have a lot of talented designers, developers and engineers who could come up with something good, maybe even great. People with the ability to remix.

Then I always remember we’re talking about a hardware company that doesn’t know how to make software. Who seems to have no interest in learning how to make software. Who licenses their mobile operating system from another company.