Today, Samsung will introduce the Galaxy S21, Galaxy S21 Plus and Galaxy S21 Ultra (I’ll take the Zune-inspired brown thanks). This happens a few months earlier than usual for the S line of phones, but otherwise the script will remain the same.
Here is the script. Samsung will be the first major Android maker to come out of the gate with Qualcomm’s latest chips, this time with the Snapdragon 888. Samsung will use its seemingly huge marketing budget and long-standing operator relationships to ensure it is seen as default option if you want a premium Android phone – especially if you make this purchase at a US carrier store.
Other parts of the script are not necessarily guaranteed, but are safe bets. They will probably be excellent phones, well balanced and capable. Samsung will make big claims about the camera, which will require strict testing to verify. And of course, the ever-swinging pendulum of Samsung̵
The last part of the script makes me think of one of the main recurring characters in it: Bixby. Samsung’s digital assistant launched in 2017 with the Galaxy S8. It was another digital assistant, but as Dan Seifert wrote at the time, he had a very clear and very good task that helped differentiate him from Alexa, Siri and Google. Samsung did not try to turn Bixby into a universal assistant who knows and does everything. There was focus:
Samsung knows it can’t compete with Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others when it comes to raw machine learning power and providing a huge amount of information at your fingertips, so it uses Bixby to solve a simpler task. which these companies have largely ignored. Bixby will not try to be an assistant at all. Instead, it will be the “bright helper” that complements these other services. This is a new user interface, not a new way to ask how tall the Eiffel Tower is.
Bixby had to be an interface, not an assistant. Was this really a viable strategy? Who knows! Certainly not Samsung, which very quickly did what Samsung usually does with software: give way to crawling features. In the last few years, Bixby has become the thing that was originally designed no to be: a worse version of Google Assistant.
Samsung tried to push Bixby. He created a special button for it. He later dropped this button, but assigned it to a long press on the power button. He built Bixby routines (which was related to Bixby’s original goal). But then it connects Bixby to a feed content that lives to the left of the home screen. And it announced independent Bixby smart speakers that were never delivered.
On The Vergecast we have a running joke that Bixby is a dog who wears shoes and is a butler. This is well-intentioned and he wants to please, but in the end he stumbles a lot and doesn’t do a very good job of serving drinks or answering the door because he is a dog wearing shoes.
Speaking of shoes, put yourself in Samsung. Why does Bixby continue to develop? I can think of only two reasons, one good and one bad.
The good reason: hedging against Google and Android. It’s always possible for Google to do something rude and for Samsung to want to save without Google’s services (or even Android itself). It’s not a terrible idea to have your own digital assistant that leaks in just in case. If nothing else, this could serve as a signal to Google that Samsung is actually ready to just leave and make Tizen and Bixby in certain negotiations.
That’s the good reason – or at least as close to the good reason as I can imagine – but I don’t know if it’s the real reason. I suspect the real reason is the same as the bad reason: Samsung is still, after all these years and after all his successes, trying to be Apple.
Being Apple is a shorthand for the existence of an end-to-end ecosystem where your users live and breathe your services and are thus locked into your products. If you are going to have a holistic, comprehensive ecosystem, you need to cover all the basics like this: Bixby.
And also: your own fitness service. And your own application for health and ecosystem of connections. Your own family of Bluetooth headsets. Your own tracking token (before Apple even announced its tracking token). Your own tablets. Your own music service. Your own news service. And so on.
These are all things that Samsung has either tried or is actively trying to do now. Some of them are really successful! Samsung’s Galaxy Buds line today will consist of three different headphone variants, each with its own clear reason for this and each quite good (assuming the new Galaxy Buds Pro doesn’t stink).
Samsung has always wanted to build a whole world (or, uh, Galaxy) for its users to live in, just like Apple. The disappointing thing is that Samsung is very good at so many things, and if you just lean a little more towards those things, you can chart a more innovative and interesting path.
Take Samsung DeX, just for one example. This is what allows you to connect your phone to a larger screen such as a TV or monitor and get a full desktop interface. This is really great, but I suspect it’s a technological demonstration rather than a commonly used feature. But the Snapdragon 888, which will be in these S21 phones, will in many ways be just as powerful as the chips that will work with Arm-based Windows laptops this year.
With DeX, there is untapped potential that Apple couldn’t match for years if Samsung could understand. Instead, he is working to remove Tile-esque tracking labels before Apple can.
If Samsung focused a little more on where it’s already ahead and a little less on where it’s terribly backward, it would make products much more exciting.
That’s why I call it: I had it with Bixby. If Samsung can’t lift it with Siri (low bandwidth!) Or find a way to get it back to its more focused roots, it’s time to send it to the farm. Or at least allow users to redirect the power button to Google Assistant (without the need for third-party hacks).
There is a tiny glimmer of hope. Jimmy’s leak of Promo from Samsung’s new OneUI version of Android shows that users will be able to choose between Google feed or Samsung Free feed on their home screens.
Samsung’s user interface on top of Android rotates like a pendulum between two poles. It is overloaded with features and a strange user interface for several years, after which the pendulum hovers there at the end of its arc before returning to a cleaner and simpler user interface. It’s time to turn the pendulum back. And that means it’s time to let Bixby go.
The last of the CES
Are all these CES technical messages or are some of them just adjacent to CES? When CES is virtual, is it an event when things happen or just a mood, a state of mind? Do I use philosophical jokes like a smokescreen to cover up my inability to determine if these things are technically part of CES or not?
Sometimes the questions have no answers. All we can really know in this world is that laser projectors are still really great.
┏ Aste’s Latte distributes movies instead of coffee and milk. I have an Anker / Nebula version of one of these things with a mini projector / speaker and it’s one of the best things I throw in my suitcase when I travel (uh, when I traveled). You really need a dark room 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 to deal with any TV in a hotel or Airbnb. I may be interested in switching to this, as the version of the Nebula on Android TV of the nebula is old, buggy and poorly maintained.
┏ LG’s latest 4K laser projector supports AirPlay 2 for $ 2999.
┏ LG’s new batch of gaming monitors includes a 4K / 144Hz panel with HDMI 2.1.
┏ But wait, Asus has even more gaming monitors equipped with HDMI 2.1 ports.
┏ Asus’ new Chromebook CX9 offers military-grade durability.
┏ Asus’ 2021 laptop lineup 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 main screen (regular) as well as a secondary screen (ScreenPad Plus) that is built into the top half of the keyboard deck. It’s not really big enough to do anything, but you can load distractors (Twitter, Discord, etc.) on it to protect them from the main workspace. Some programs, including Adobe, also offer ScreenPad-specific interfaces.
┏ MSI 2021 Gaming Laptops Receive Nvidia RTX 3000 Series Mobile Graphics Cards and Wi-Fi 6E Support. Monica Chin
MSI unveiled its range of portable gaming laptops in early 2021 during CES on Wednesday. The big news is that all new versions are equipped with brand new graphics cards from Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3000 series. In addition to improved frame rates and beam tracking, these chips will provide Nvidia’s latest features, including its changing BAR technology. They also receive 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 gaming and creator-focused laptop to adopt Nvidia’s new RTX 3000 graphics after their launch at CES 2021. These laptops will use Nvidia’s third-generation Max-Q designed for thin laptops for games and content. The new GPUs also include new Dynamic Boost 2.0 technology, which uses AI to balance power between the CPU, GPU and GPU in real time.
┏ MSI Tiamat’s new GE76 Raider Dragon Edition is a tribute to an ancient goddess. The 10-year-old, playing 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, would have lost it if he had known that one day there would be a Tiamat-themed gaming laptop.
┏ CES 2020 best technologies: Where are they now?
Since On the edge
┏ Chill imbibes: inside the heyday of the relaxation drink business. Great feature by Liz Lopato. I’ve seen ads for these drinks everywhere and I was wondering what the deal really was. Here is the answer.
┏ Apple’s first major investment in racial stocks included a Detroit Developer Center and HBCU Technology Center.
┏ Intel will replace its CEO next month.
┏ Ring adds end-to-end encryption to protect your video streams.
┏ Google says it is about to fix the coronavirus tracking delays on Android.
┏ Nvidia and AMD are dealing with a major shortage of GPUs.