Samsung Bixby is a good virtual assistant with lots of potential, but faces a tough uphill battle to match the likes of Google.
Bixby, the AI assistant that Samsung implemented inside the Galaxy S8, was an expected feature. We knew it was coming from the day they acquired Viv, the company behind Apple’s famous assistant Siri. It’s a response to the rapid convergence of artificial intelligence and mobile connectivity, first started by Apple and pushed further by Google in recent months. Samsung’s service seemed solid enough during the demonstration yesterday, matching the competition feature-for-feature, however it lacked a truly unique USP that is necessary to convince users of other systems.
Aside from Cortana and Siri, Bixby’s biggest competitor is Google Assistant. This robust feature will be baked into almost all Android Nougat devices in the future, giving it a huge install base overnight. While it’s unlikely that Samsung wants to offer the software to other handset manufacturers, there’s still the lingering question of why people would opt to use Bixby over Google Assistant in the first place? The latter is entirely native to Android, will arguably have better support thanks to Google’s ownership of the underlying OS and has a much larger audience. The new assistant will need to prove itself over time to convince smaller developers to invest the time adopting Bixby into their applications.
What Makes Bixby So Special?
Short answer, not much. It offers pretty similar features to Google Assistant and seems to be playing a safe game. These include voice triggering and the ability to interpret data shown on screen. There’s also a home screen made up of cards which mirrors that of Google Assistant. The home screen acts a calendar with which Bixby can read the data, offering suggestions and reminders for appointments. Samsung expressed at the event the Bixby wants to help with how we interact with our smartphone, rather than change it. Many of the features in Bixby are about convenience, such as being able to change brightness settings with a simple voice command. There’s also a dedicated button to wake Bixby, though for an assistant which is based around voice commands, this seems a little redundant.
The inclusion of camera integration is a nifty trick but nobody can comment on its efficiency until the software is out in the wild. In principal, pointing the camera at objects should allow Bixby to pick out bits of information. Algorithms like this are not a new feature and have been used by big companies in the past for facial recognition. Facebook already uses a similar feature to automatically tag people in pictures. Feedback from the controlled demonstrations showed at Samsung Unpacked yesterday seem to be mixed, with a lot of outlets reporting buggy performance. Interestingly, it was the image recognition that seemed to be the most robust, with voice command confusion being a common complaint among testers.
The Future of Bixby
As it stands, the assistant feels like an acceptable response to the growing Artificial Intelligence scene but nothing more. Bixby still has a lot of holes in the implementation, but the potential is there for a great assistant. Although tech outlets have been quick to criticise the number of bugs at announcement, there could be a very good reason for this. Bixby isn’t yet using Viv, the impressive AI startup purchased by Samsung last year for $215 million. The software focuses primarily on speech input, having the ability to understand complex questions and even human intent. Perhaps when Samsung manages to integrate the two services together, Bixby could become a very potent assistant indeed.