This article originally appeared on Real Money on Nov. 7, 2016.
As Alphabet (GOOGL) makes a serious foray into the high-end smartphone market, Samsung's Note 7 debacle has proven to be quite the welcoming gift.
If a new report is on the mark, Samsung might be giving Alphabet's Google a little more time than expected to enjoy its gift, and also playing to the search giant's strengths when it launches its next high-end phone.
Sources tell The Wall Street Journal Samsung won't unveil its Galaxy S8 phone at the Mobile World Congress trade show running from Feb. 27 to March 2, after having launched prior Galaxy S models at the event. One source adds the S8's unveiling might not happen until April.
WSJ also reports Samsung wants to differentiate the S8 through new artificial intelligence/voice assistant services that can be accessed through a dedicated button on the phone's side edge. Samsung has long bundled its S Voice assistant service with its phones, but the service has become an afterthought in a space where Apple's (AAPL) Siri, Microsoft's (MSFT) Cortana, Amazon's (AMZN) Alexa and Google's Assistant (an outgrowth of the Google Now service) have the spotlight.
Samsung's new service will leverage technology obtained from startup Viv Labs, which was founded by Siri's creators and just recently acquired by the electronics giant. Viv attempts to stand out from rivals in part through a feature known as dynamic program generation, which lets an AI system create its own code (based on what it has learned from past interactions) to handle tasks and commands it wasn't originally programmed to do.
Viv also talks up its "open ecosystem," which -- provided developers give their support -- allows it to leverage third-party apps and services to provide answers and content. Amazon has created a vibrant ecosystem of "Skills" that can be handled by Alexa, and Google recently launched a software development kit (SDK) for Assistant. Siri supports a limited number of third-party apps and services.
While Viv's pedigree can't be questioned, its resources can be. Part of what makes Google Assistant such a formidable player in the voice assistant wars are the tremendous investments Google has made in AI/machine learning over the years, enough so that the company appears to treat AI as a core competitive advantage. During Google's July earnings call, CEO Sundar Pichai mentioned more than 100 teams inside his company are leveraging machine learning.
Moreover, Google's machine learning algorithms have become quite sophisticated -- and continue to become more so -- due to the incredible amounts of relevant data that they're exposed to. Google has handled untold billions of voice and text-based natural language searches, and has also been able to use data provided by other services, such as Maps, Gmail and Calendar, to make Assistant more useful.
That's a big reason why Assistant has received high marks in reviews of Google's Pixel phones and Home speaker, with reviewers often praising its ability to handle basic tasks, understand the context of queries and carry on a conversation. While admitting it's not perfect, Apple fan Walt Mossberg called Assistant "far better" than Siri, which originally launched in 2012.
That sets a high bar for Samsung to clear, and given Assistant is bound to get smarter, support more tasks and expand its ecosystem in time, the company is also chasing a moving target. By declaring a voice assistant service to be a key selling point for a new Android phone, reviewers are bound to spend time comparing the service with Google Assistant. And there's a good chance those comparisons won't go in Samsung's favor.
Meanwhile, pushing back the S8's launch by a month or two gives Google additional time to build on the Pixel and Pixel XL's strong early momentum. With the help of solid reviews, a big ad campaign, the Google brand, a subdued (albeit better than feared) iPhone upgrade cycle and of course the exploding/discontinued Note 7, the Pixel line stands to do brisk business this holiday season.
Apple could also benefit some from a later-than-expected S8 launch, particular given the potential for iPhone 7 sales to weaken ahead of the launching of 2017 iPhones that are expected to feature major hardware upgrades. As might Qualcomm (QCOM) , given Google uses the company's processors and various complementary chips in all Pixel phones, whereas Samsung only uses them in some Galaxy Note and S-series units.
But Google is arguably the biggest winner here. Samsung's missteps arguably have Google well-positioned to join the ranks of the high-end smartphone market's top players.