Today, Samsung will unveil the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra (I take the Zune-inspired brown thank you). It happens a few months earlier than usual for the S-series of phones, but otherwise the script remains the same.
Here is the script. Samsung will be the first major Android manufacturer out of the gate with Qualcomm’s latest chips, this time with the Snapdragon 888. Samsung will use its unusually huge marketing budget and many years of operator relationships to ensure that it will be seen as the default setting if you want premium Android phone – especially if you make this purchase in a US carrier store.
Other parts of the script are not necessarily guaranteed, but are safe games. They are likely to be excellent phones, well-balanced and capable. Samsung will make great camera demands that require rigorous testing to verify. And of course, the ever-swinging pendulum in Samsung̵
The last part of the script makes me think of one of the greatest recurring characters in it: Bixby. Samsung’s digital assistant was launched in 2017 with the Galaxy S8. It was yet another digital assistant, but as Dan Seifert wrote at the time, it had a very clear and very good task that helped distinguish it from Alexa, Siri, and Google. Samsung did not try to make Bixby a general, know-and-do-all assistant. It had focus:
Samsung knows that it can not compete with Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others when it comes to raw machine learning and puts large amounts of information at hand, so it uses Bixby to solve a simpler task, one that these companies basically have ignored. Bixby will not try to be the all-assistant. Instead, it will be the “bright sidekick” that complements these other services. It’s a new user interface, not a new way of asking how high the Eiffel Tower is.
Bixby should be an interface, not an assistant. Was it really a viable strategy? Who knows! Certainly not Samsung, which very quickly did what Samsung tends to do with software: give in to feature creeps. Over the last few years, Bixby has become the thing it originally designed does not to be: a worse version of Google Assistant.
Samsung tried to push Bixby. It created a dedicated button for it. It later dropped that button, but assigned it to a long press on the power button. It expanded Bixby routines (which were related to Bixby’s original purpose). But then it connected Bixby with a chum feed of content that lived to the left of the home screen. And it announced independent smart Bixby speakers that were never really aired.
At The Vergecast, we have a running joke that Bixby is a dog that wears shoes and is also a butler. It is well-meaning and eager to please, but in the end stumbles around a lot and does not do a very good job of serving drinks or answering the door because it is a dog wearing shoes.
Speaking of shoes, put yourself in Samsung’s. Why does it continue to develop Bixby? I can only think of two reasons, one good and one bad.
The good reason: a hedge against Google and Android. It’s always possible that Google might be doing something sinister, and Samsung wants to bail out and do without Google’s services (or even Android itself). It’s not a terrible idea to have your own digital assistant percolating just in case. If nothing else, it could serve as a signal to Google that Samsung is actually willing to just walk away and do Tizen and Bixby in certain negotiations.
That’s the good reason – or at least as close to a good reason as I can come up with – but I do not know if that’s the real reason. I suppose the real cause is one and the same as the bad cause: Samsung is still, after all these years and after all its successes tried to be Apple.
Being Apple is shorthand for having an end-to-end ecosystem where your users live and breathe your services and thereby are locked into your products. If you want a holistic, all-inclusive ecosystem, cover all the bases and then: Bixby.
And also: your own fitness service. And your own healthcare app and your ecosystem of connections. Your own family of Bluetooth headphones. Your own tracker tag (before Apple even announces its tracker tag). Your own tablets. Your own music service. Your own news service. Etc.
All of these are things that Samsung has either been trying or actively trying to do now. Some of them are really successful! Samsung’s Galaxy Buds line today will consist of three different variants of earplugs, each with its own clear reason to be, and each quite good (provided the new Galaxy Buds Pro does not whip).
Samsung has always had ambitions to build an entire world (or, is, Galaxy) for its users to live in, just like Apple. What’s frustrating is that Samsung is very good at so many things, and if it just wanted to lean a little more into these things, it could map out a more innovative and interesting path.
Take Samsung DeX, for just one example. It’s the thing that allows you to connect your phone to a larger screen like a TV or a monitor and get a full desktop interface. It’s really cool, but, I suppose, more of a technical demo than a frequently used feature. But the Snapdragon 888 that will be in these S21 phones will in many ways be as powerful as the chips that will run Arm-based Windows laptops this year.
There is untapped potential with DeX that Apple could not match for years if Samsung could figure it out. Instead, it makes an effort to get Tile-esque tracking codes out the door before Apple can.
If Samsung wanted to focus a little more on where it’s already in front, and a little less on where it’s sadly behind, it would create much more exciting products.
That’s why I call it: I’ve had it with Bixby. If Samsung can neither bring it up to snuff with Siri (a low bar!) Nor find a way to bring it back to its more focused roots, it’s time to send it to the farm. Or at least allow users to switch the power switch to Google Assistant (without the use of third-party hacks).
There is a glimmer of hope. Jimmy’s Promo leak of the new version of Samsung’s OneUI version of Android shows that users will be able to choose between the Google feed or the Samsung Free feed on their home screens.
Samsung’s user interface on top of Android has swung like a pendulum between two poles. It gets overloaded with features and weird user interface for a few years, then the pendulum swings there at the end of its arc before swinging back to a cleaner, simpler user interface. It’s time for the pendulum to swing back. And that means it’s time to let Bixby go.
The last of CES
Are all these technical CES messages, or are some of them only CES compliant? When CES is virtual, is it an event where things happen or just a mood, a state of mind? Do I use jokes about philosophical difficulties as a smokescreen to cover up my inability to determine if these things are technically part of CES or not?
Sometimes questions have no answers. All we can really know in this world is that laser projectors are still really cool.
┏ Asus’ latte delivers movies instead of coffee and milk. I have an Anchor / Nebula version of one of these mini projector / speaker things, and it’s one of the best things I throw in my suitcase when I travel (is when I traveled). You really need a dark room for it to be good, but you’ll be surprised how much more convenient it is to just plug an HDMI cable into the projector you have than it has to do with what there had to be TV hotel or Airbnb. I may be interested in switching to this as Nebula’s version of Android TV is old, buggy and poorly supported.
┏ LG’s latest 4K laser projector supports AirPlay 2 for $ 2,999.
┏ LG’s new batch of gaming screens includes 4K / 144Hz panel with HDMI 2.1.
┏ But wait, Asus has even more game monitors equipped with HDMI 2.1 ports.
┏ Asus’ new Chromebook CX9 offers military-grade durability.
┏ Asus’ 2021 laptop line includes two new dual-screen ZenBooks. A new member joins the Keyboard In The Front club!
If you’re new to the ZenBook Duo line, laptops have a primary screen (the regular one) as well as a secondary screen (ScreenPad Plus) built into the top half of the keyboard deck. It’s not really big enough to do anything on, but you can load your distractions (Twitter, Discord, etc.) on it to keep them out of your main work area. Some applications, including Adobe, also offer ScreenPad-specific interfaces.
┏ MSI’s 2021 Gaming Laptops Get Nvidia’s RTX 3000 Series Mobile Graphics Card and Wi-Fi 6E Support. Monica Chin
MSI unveiled its early 2021 series of gaming gaming laptops at CES on Wednesday. The big news is that all the new releases are equipped with Nvidia’s brand new GeForce RTX 3000 series graphics card. In addition to improved frame rates and beam tracking, these chips will deliver Nvidia’s latest features, including BIZ technology that can be changed. They also get support for Wi-Fi 6E.
┏ MSI’s new Creator 15 comes with RTX 3000 graphics. Monica Chin
Creator 15 is just the latest in a dump of gaming and creator-focused laptops to adopt Nvidia’s new RTX 3000 graphics after their release at CES 2021. These laptops will use the third generation of Nvidia’s Max-Q design, which is designed for thin laptops for games and content. The new GPUs also include a new Dynamic Boost 2.0 technology that utilizes AI to balance power between CPU, GPU and GPU memory in real time.
┏ MSI’s new GE76 Raider Dragon Edition Tiamat is a tribute to an ancient goddess. 10-year-old me playing 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons would have lost it if he knew one day there would be a Tiamat-themed gaming laptop.
┏ The best technology at CES 2020: Where are they now?
More from The edge
┏ Chill imbibes: inside the thriving business of relaxation drinks. Great feature from Liz Lopatto. I have seen ads for these drinks everywhere and wondered what the deal really was. Here is the answer.
┏ Apple’s first major race investment includes a Detroit developer center and HBCU tech hub.
┏ Intel will replace its CEO next month.
┏ Ring adds end-to-end encryption to protect your video streams.
┏ Google says there is a solution to Android Coronavirus Delays.
┏ Nvidia and AMD solve the big GPU shortcoming.