Samsung Arrives Late to Smart Speaker Party With Galaxy Home Mini

Samsung has a ways to go to catch Amazon Echo, Google Home and other smart speaker incumbents, but believes a focus on privacy and the home will help it get there.
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With the Galaxy Home Mini smart speaker, Samsung is playing catch up to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, among other devices that have been around for years. But the South Korean electronics giant believes it can compete with some unique advantages.

At CES this week, Samsung introduced the device and laid out a vision of how it plans to differentiate itself in the fast-growing smart speaker market.

Powered by Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant, the Galaxy Home Mini will be a compact speaker that looks like a smaller version of Samsung’s previously announced Galaxy Home, which it introduced in 2018 but hasn’t yet brought to market. Reactions were mixed to the original device, which had a bottom-heavy shape and legs.

Now, Samsung is positioning the smaller Galaxy Home as the hub of intelligent home devices -- a universe that Samsung has already been carving out for many years. The Galaxy Home Mini will launch in early 2020, Samsung told Bloomberg this week

It didn't announce pricing or a specific release date, and Samsung didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

"We are at the start of a third phase: the home as a living organism," said Federico Casalegno, head design innovation officer at Samsung's Design Innovation Center, speaking of Samsung's vision of a connected home at the opening CES keynote. "The goal isn’t to add more devices and products, but to enable us to live better with powerful, intuitive and simplified technologies."

At past CES events, and under its SmartThings brand, Samsung has introduced everything from wifi-enabled refrigerators and light bulbs to smart washing machines and appliances. Whether that array family of devices will be enough to chip away at competitors’ share is another question.

Amazon  (AMZN) - Get Report holds a considerable lead in the smart speaker market with 36.6% of worldwide shipments as of the third quarter of last year, according to research firm Canalys. But the market is still growing at a fast clip, with an ever-diversifying array of options for around (as well as beyond) the home. Canalyst estimated that smart speaker shipments grew 45% in Q3 2019.

That leaves Samsung to wedge itself into a space that’s already crowded with influential global players, including Amazon, Google  (GOOGL) - Get Report, Alibaba  (BABA) - Get Report, Baidu  (BIDU) - Get Report and others. Samsung's voice assistant, Bixby, is also relatively obscure compared to others such as Apple's  (AAPL) - Get Report Siri and Amazon's Alexa. 

With its focus on connected homes, Samsung’s approach may be most comparable to Google’s Nest brand, a family of household devices that includes thermostats, smoke detectors, doorbells, cameras, displays and more.

In an interview with Bloomberg this week, Hyunsuk Kim, CEO of Samsung’s consumer electronics division, said that Bixby will be focused less on conversational awareness -- an area that Amazon has emphasized in the development of Alexa -- and more on usefulness when it comes to appliances or other hardware. 

Kim also acknowledged that Samsung is late to the voice assistant field, but suggested that its firm position as a privacy-focused hardware maker -- and not a data business -- will help Samsung make up for lost time.

“We are a latecomer in the AI field, but we are catching up very fast,” Kim said in the interview. 

Apart from the Galaxy Home Mini, Samsung also plans to roll out the newest slate of Galaxy smartphones, including a more affordable version of its flagship phones, later this year.