Samsung officially unveiled its new virtual assistant Bixby today alongside its Galaxy S8 smart phone. And according to the reviews, Bixby is still very much in beta mode. CNET reports it may not even come preinstalled on the phone, instead arriving as a software update. Samsung’s virtual assistant is an ambitious project as Bixby is actually three virtual assistants rolled into one (voice, vision and home.) One problem is that while Samsung bought the AI startup Viv last year, the company has not used its new asset to improve Bixby, as CNET reports:
Bixby is all homegrown so far. Samsung says it will eventually integrate the AI it bought when it acquired Viv Labs in 2016, but we don’t know when.
Not Ready for Prime Time
Another problem is that the S8 ships with Nougat and Google Assistant. Although Bixby has some cool image recognition features, it cannot compete with Google Assistant for voice without Viv’s technology. Unlike Siri and Google Assistant, users can only use Bixby to control their phone settings, like adjusting volume or accessing Wi-Fi. Samsung claims that Bixby can do everything with voice commands that you can do with touch on your phone but there are some glaring holes in that statement. For instance, Bixby can’t launch an internet search to help you find a restaurant or to tell you who won the game. It’s possible Samsung could improve on these capabilities before the Galaxy S8 ships in three weeks but it seems doubtful. Samsung had over five months to integrate Bixby with Viv and still hasn’t set a completion date.
Bixby Needs to Grow Up Fast
Launching an incomplete Bixby won’t do Samsung any favors. One of the tricky parts about launching a voice assistant is getting people to actually use it – voice commands are radically different from the touch commands we’re accustomed to. Think about how many people tried Siri when she first launched and never used her again.
For Samsung, it’s even worse as the S8 is also launching with Bixby’s rival, Google Assistant. Customers could become loyal Google Assistants users, making Bixby an afterthought. This is the last thing Samsung wants as Bixby is the central part of its plan to build an entire ecosystem of connected Samsung devices and to get out from under Google’s thumb. Samsung may learn the hard way that if you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk.