How to construct a payments platypus of sorts — you know, a mish-mosh of opposites that may not on the surface dovetail well but still get put together once in a while, less evolution than, perhaps, ever-amusing? Try being Samsung this past week, which had both a sizzle and a fizzle.
Lyft: Lyft got, well, a lift, in the past week, and their IPO drumbeat may be getting louder. The firm got $600 million in the latest funding round, giving it an implied valuation of $7.5 billion. The private equity firms that have backed the latest capital infusion are ones that are known for doing so as their investees get ready to go public. Might 2017 really be the year of the tech IPO resurgence?
SMBs: Small business operators remained optimistic into March as data from Capital One stated that half of smaller firms surveyed see optimism about the current business climate, which is better by 9 percent than a year ago. With expectations that conditions will get even better in the next six months, hiring gains may proceed apace at some point. Just when is a matter of speculation. The Capital One data showed that such stepped-up activity will not occur in the next six to 12 months. But Federal Reserve data has found that fully 40 percent of those surveyed are looking to pad the staffing levels, as they also expect to see top-line growth.
Mobile SME loan applications: It is no secret that smaller firms tend to have a bumpy ride in finding financing across traditional conduits. So by going the alternative route, there have been some beneficiaries, with the use of mobile devices getting a lift here. Think of the 15 percent jump in applications across those virtual lines, at 56 percent of applications, year over year. Let’s call it … upwardly mobile.
Wells Fargo: Yes, the bank bested earnings on the Street, with a four-penny beat but amid lending slowdowns, stagnant net income and revenue declines. Yes, Buffett sold down some shares. To add insult to injury: The company is being sued by Bitfinex, which is based in Hong Kong, for suspending wire transfers to banks that serviced the tech upstart. The potatoes may be rather small, in terms of penalties, with an injunction requested and $75,000 in damages, but reputations remain reputations, with value attached — or diminished.
Gymboree may be proved to be another retail fail, as the company is rumored to be prepping for bankruptcy amid a debt repayment scenario. Looks like nothing really is safe from online competition, which ate away at results, even cute kids apparel.
Wonga had a whopper of a week as a data breach may have affected a quarter of a million U.K. customers. The personal data tied therein may have been lifted, giving a black eye to the payday lender that is known for interest rates on loans that top 1,200 percent. Not the type of news that warrants a stiff upper lip.
Sizzle of the Week (With A Side Of Fizzle): Samsung
Every once and awhile one of the players we review manages to split the decision between a sizzle and a fizzle, and this week that player is Samsung.
The fizzle-that-almost-was got out early in the news cycle: The much-anticipated new kid of the artificial intelligence (AI) assistant block Bixby will not be shipping with the newest generation of Galaxy S phones. However, raw enthusiasm for the phone itself seems to be driving out-of-the-ballpark pre-order numbers, with or without Bixby on board.
So what happened, and what does it all mean?
Bixby On Hold
Much hyped as Samsung’s answer to Siri and Alexa, Bixby was designed to stand out in an increasingly crowded field of voice-activated, AI-powered virtual assistants. Even its name is different — insofar as it sounds far more like a boy’s name than a girl’s.
Bigger than its metaphysical gender, however, Bixby is not designed to be a general data source or reference point; it doesn’t know how tall the Eiffel Tower is and doesn’t feel as though it needs to know.
But Bixby also has three big advantages. The first is “Viv,” the voice bot that understands natural human language when spoken in a normal way by a normal human. Viv comes to Bixby care of Samsung’s acquisition of Vivi labs last year. Second is what Bixby knows how to do, which is to help users operate their Samsung phones (and later perhaps other Samsung devices) better, faster and more efficiently. Instead of flipping through a few apps to do a distinct action — post pictures to social media, for example — Bixby specializes in doing it all with a single request.
And third is the scope of Bixby’s intelligence and context. Bixby’s intelligence is also connected to the camera — so when users snap a pic of something they see, Bixby can offer recommendations on where to buy it, for example, or something similar.
Or at least Bixby will when available. That day will not be April 21, the day the Samsung phone is officially released here in the U.S., since both the S8 and S8+ will ship without English voice controls for Bixby. Though Samsung has given no official reason — early tests by media indicated there was some difficulty in English-language functionality.
Users will be able to tap into some Bixby functionality — Vision, Home and Reminder will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21, according to Samsung. A full update for Bixby included the announcement that voice controls are expected later this spring.
For those who need to talk to their phone on day one, Google’s voice assistant will be available. Or they can learn to speak Korean — according to reports, the Korean version of Bixby’s voice control has not been delayed.
And while we’d rather take the wait-and-see position since at the S8 launch, Bixby was more or less mesmerizing, others seemed less willing to be patient. Forbes’ reaction to the news that Bixby will be delayed?
On the other hand …
The Galaxy S8 Is Sizzling
After the unfortunate set of circumstances related to the release of Samsung’s last flagship phone, the Galaxy S7 and S7+, we are hesitant to describe any Samsung phone as “sizzling” because we honestly don’t want to alarm anyone.
However, that is the fairest description of the pre-release buzz accompanying the S8’s release. The pre-order numbers are rolling in, and they are very encouraging.
According to reports, pre-orders for the Galaxy S8 phones are ahead of where its predecessor S7 phones were at the same time in the release cycle.
The S8 has already been widely positively reviewed, and some analysts are anticipating a first-year sales record for the South Korean company.
“It’s still a bit early, but initial response to the pre-orders that have begun at various places across the world has been better than expected,” mobile chief Koh Dong-jin said at an S8 media briefing.
After the withdrawal of the S7 from the market — and the resulting loss of $5.4 billion in profit — there had been concerns that Samsung would have some difficulty bringing back its customer base — concerns that early data at least is relieving.
“It took Toyota about four years for its brand to get back to where it was, and I think ours can do it faster,” said Lee Young-hee, an executive vice president at Samsung’s mobile business, referring to a series of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle recalls from 2009 to 2010.
While Samsung executives believe gaining back consumer trust will be a process, the brand has seen a rebound in consumer sentiment since it released data on what caused the fire in late January.
“We felt really comfortable that we had attained a level of confidence with consumers so that we could actually shift to the product campaign,” said Pio Schunker, global head of integrated marketing for Samsung’s mobile business. “Ultimately, I think it is this product that proves this case.
Perhaps it is a bit early to call the case proved — that judgment will have to wait for when the phones go on sale at the of the month.
But clearly consumers are actively awaiting the phone — and that is a good sign. Now if they can only quickly teach Bixby English.