There’s a new virtual assistant on the block. Ahead of next week’s announcement of the Galaxy S8, Samsung has introduced the world to Bixby, its own entry into the increasingly crowded AI landscape.
Samsung is a bit late to the AI race led by Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, but it has a bit of a different strategy. Instead of wowing us with encyclopedic knowledge, Samsung is putting Bixby at the center of the Galaxy experience. It’s calling it an intelligent interface, rather than an assistant, and it will work across the phone and any “Bixby-enabled” apps to reduce the number of taps we need to make.
Rather than adding summoning functionality into the home button, Samsung has built a dedicated button on the side of the S8 (seen in the picture above) to “make it feel easier and more comfortable to give commands.” As Samsung explains, “Bixby will be smart enough to understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge, and then will prompt users to provide more information and take the execution of the task in piecemeal.”
Bixby will also be aware of which application you are using to provide specific assistance, and it will respond to both voice and text input, and “will be able to support almost every task that the application is capable of performing using the conventional interface.”
How all of this will play out inside the phone will require some serious hands-on, but the example Samsung cites is fairly pedestrian: Instead of taking multiple steps to make a call – turning on and unlocking the phone, looking for the phone application, clicking on the contact bar to search for the person that you’re trying to call and pressing the phone icon to start dialing – you will be able to do all these steps with one push of the Bixby button and a simple command.”
While Bixby will launch on the Galaxy S8, Samsung has plans to bring it to all its appliances to create an ecosystem of smart devices that can be controlled through the AI interface. On the S8, Samsung says “a subset of preinstalled applications will be Bixby-enabled” at launch with more to follow and an SDK “eventually” offered to developers.
Samsung doesn’t say whether you’ll be able to summon Bixby with a voice command, nor does it say whether it will be also able to respond to traditional knowledge-based queries, or deliver weather forecasts or sports scores. It’s possible that Samsung will be leaving those uses to Google Assistant and task Bixby strictly with phone functions.
The Bixby buzz: We’ve been hearing for a while now that Bixby would be the name of Samsung’s digital assistant, so there’s no surprise there. What is interesting, however, is the way Samsung appears to be deploying Bixby on the Galaxy S8. By focusing on phone functions, Bixby could actually end up being more useful than Siri or Google Assistant, especially if it bakes that functionality deep into the interface and expands it to its line of Gear watches. While we’ll get a better picture of Bixby at next week’s S8 launch in New York City, for now, we’ll have to take Samsung on its word when it says that “Bixby is at the heart of our software and services evolution as a company.”