Apple’s Siri chief moves to Samsung to build connected device platform
By James Niccolai
The engineer who oversaw development of Apple’s Siri technology is now at Samsung building an online service for linking together the “Internet of things.”
Luc Julia, a vice president at Samsung’s innovation lab in Menlo Park, California, demonstrated the project, called SAMI, or the Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions, at a conference north of San Francisco on Friday.
Still in its early stages, SAMI aims to be a platform that can collect data from any connected device, including wearable computers like the Fitbit, and make that data available for consumption by other devices.
It’s designed for use by companies that make wearable computers, home automation equipment, and automobiles, as a common platform they can use to build additional services for their customers.
Suited for fitness apps
To demonstrate the service, Julia showed how SAMI might be used to build a personal health service. He donned a Fitbit and a wearable heart monitor, weighed himself on an Internet-connected scale, then ran around the stage a few times by way of putting himself through an exercise routine.
He showed how data from the devices, which is normally viewed in standalone apps, can be collected by SAMI, processed, and then presented to the user in the form of a single app.
In Siri-like fashion, he also asked the service, “SAMI, how am I doing?” The app told him he had reached his exercise goal for the day. The idea is that it could do more sophisticated analysis, such as telling him when he needs to train harder or take a break.
Julia showed the technology at the MEMS Executive Congress in Napa, California, an event for companies that make sensors for smartphones and other devices.
A big benefit of SAMI, according to Julia, is that it will be able to collect and store data from any device in its original format. Samsung will “normalize” the data and make it available as a feed—he called it a firehose, using the Twitter metaphor—that can be consumed by other applications.
“We’re doing this normalization and delivering the data through an API [application programming interface], because people don’t want to learn all the APIs for all the individual products,” he said.
Julia was director of Apple’s Siri project for about ten months until he left Apple last year. It’s easy to see similarities between the projects: Both collect data from a variety of services and deliver them through a single app. But while Siri is specific to Apple, Samsung wants its platform to be used by many companies. Julia didn’t give a lot of technical details but said Samsung wants it to be as “open” as possible, and it’s not interested in defining standards.
In a brief interview, Julia acknowledged some of the challenges SAMI faces. Chief among them, Samsung is a hardware company with little experience in developing online services, and its bitter rivalry with Apple would almost certainly preclude the iPhone maker from ever joining the same platform.
“It’s something Samsung doesn’t know very well today, because Samsung is a hardware company. But we want to enter the space, and offer something different from iCloud,” he said.
If other companies don’t trust Samsung to operate the platform itself, because it competes with many of the device makers that Samsung hopes will jump on board, another company might host the service, he said.
Samsung is working with about 50 partners to develop and test SAMI, he said. They include Fitbit, smartwatch maker Pebble, Withings, which made the scales, and Vital Connect, which made the heart monitor. The Menlo Park lab also has a $100 million, three-year fund to invest in companies developing technologies that could support the effort, he said.
Samsung started work on the platform about six months ago, and Julia emphasized it’s in its early stages. The Menlo Park lab typically works on “three- to-five-year projects,” he said.
“You’ll be able to play around with it when Samsung thinks it’s ready for people to see it,” Julia said.