Samsung today announced the second-generation version of its Bixby voice assistant, seven months after Bixby was first unveiled ahead of the launch of the Galaxy S8.
According to Samsung, Bixby 2.0 is a "fundamental leap forward for digital assistants" and a "bold reinvention of the platform," designed with the aim of making Bixby available on "any and all devices."
Bixby 2.0 will be available on smartphones, TVs, refrigerators, home speakers, and other connected technology products. Bixby 2.0 will be "open," allowing developers to choose how users interact with Bixby in their services.
Samsung says Bixby 2.0 features enhanced natural language capabilities to support more natural commands and complex processing, so it can "really get to know and understand" who you are and who members of your family are.
Bixby, a Siri competitor, was designed to be deeply integrated within apps, differentiating it from other AI-based assistants like Siri and Cortana. Samsung ran into trouble with Bixby early on, though, and was not able to include the assistant in the English versions of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ due to performance issues.
While Bixby performed well in Korean, its English voice recognition capabilities lagged behind, and so Bixby was not added to the Galaxy S8 and S8+ models in the United States until July, three months after the devices launched.
Galaxy S8 owners have complained that Bixby can be confusing and frustrating to use, and a lack of enthusiasm for the feature has even caused Samsung to implement a feature that allows the dedicated Bixby button on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 to be disabled.
Bixby was built using technology Samsung acquired from Viv, an AI assistant that was developed by some of the creators originally responsible for Apple's Siri.
Samsung is launching a private beta program with the Bixby SDK, available for select developers.
When the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ smartphones went on sale in April, voice support for Bixby in the United States was missing due to Samsung's decision to delay the virtual assistant's English-language launch until what was then estimated to be sometime in late spring. This week, the company has announced that voice capabilities for Bixby are now arriving for Galaxy S8 and S8+ users across the United States.
Samsung describes Bixby as "fundamentally different" than AI helpers like Siri and Microsoft's Cortana because of its deeper and more nuanced integration into the Galaxy's core apps, as well as some third party apps at launch including Google Maps, Google Play Music, YouTube, and Facebook. The Bixby integration into these third party apps is available through a service called Bixby Labs, which Galaxy S8 owners can opt into through their smartphone.
Bixby's many features include letting users complete simple tasks like turning on the device's flashlight and taking a screenshot or selfie. More complex flows can be arranged as well, like asking the assistant to gather all of the photos taken over the past week into one album called "Vacation," and then sending it to family and friends. Samsung plans to continuously update Bixby with new features, app support, languages and devices, and the company said that thanks to deep learning, the assistant will only improve over time.
What’s more, because Bixby is deeply integrated into the device’s operating system – rather than being a separate app –users can seamlessly switch between controlling an app via voice or via touch commands, rather than choose one or the other ahead of time.
“There are over 10,000 functions on our smartphones, but each day, people may use less than five percent of them. The features on your phone are only useful if you know how to find them. Our goal with Bixby is to make it easier to use our phones, creating the best possible user experience for our customers. That’s why we created Bixby – an intuitive new way to do more things with your phone,” says Injong Rhee, Executive Vice President, Head of R&D, Software and Services of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics.
With the Bixby update, Galaxy S8 users can simply press the dedicated Bixby button on their device to call up the assistant and begin asking it questions and performing tasks, and a voice activated "Hi, Bixby" feature is also available. Right now, Bixby recognizes English and Korean languages, but Samsung noted that, "Not all accents, dialects and expressions" will be recognized.
Every time that Galaxy S8 users call up Bixby they will also earn experience points in a gamification system that Samsung is also rolling out for the launch, and ending September 14, 2017. Each message sent, call made, setting updated, or any action performed through Bixby will earn XP, which users can convert into Samsung Rewards points that can be amassed to try to win bigger prizes like Samsung products, gift cards, trips, and more.
Earlier this month, it was rumored that Samsung is planning to enter the smart speaker market with a device that uses Bixby as a way for users to interact with music playback. Codenamed "Vega," the project would place Samsung as a competitor against Apple in yet another category, since the Cupertino company at WWDC this year announced the December launch of the HomePod, its Siri-powered speaker.
Delays related to Bixby's U.S. launch are reportedly behind a slowdown on the smart speaker project, and a report out of The Korea Herald this week has furthermore placed the launch of a Samsung speaker well into the future. Sources familiar with the matter claimed that Samsung is "not enthusiastic" about a smart Bixby speaker because it "does not view Al speakers as marketable" at this time, thanks to the domination of products like Amazon Echo. Rather than dive into an uncertain market, Samsung is said to be taking a wait-and-see approach for the potential launch of its Bixby speaker.
Samsung is developing a voice-activated smart speaker to rival the likes of the Amazon Echo and Apple's forthcoming HomePod, according to a report published on Tuesday.
The project, internally codenamed "Vega", will be based on Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant, but many of the speaker's features and specifications have yet to be decided, according to sources who spoke to The Wall Street Journal. Development is said to have been going on for more than a year but has reportedly been hampered by delays to Bixby itself.
Apple's HomePod, set for release this December.
The company's Siri rival was first announced in March ahead of the debut of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, but an English-language version of the assistant has yet to make it into Samsung's phones because of performance issues. Samsung now says Bixby is unlikely to be fully introduced before the second half of July.
The connected speaker market has seen rapid growth over the last few years. Amazon released its Echo range of speakers in 2014, before the Google Home appeared a year later. Since then, Microsoft has opened up its Cortana assistant for use in third-party speakers, while just last month Apple announced it Siri-powered HomePod will be available by the end of the year.
Amazon's Echo commands more than 70 percent of the U.S. market for connected speakers, with the Google Home capturing around 24 percent, according to eMarketer, a research firm. The number of Americans using voice-activated speakers will reach about 36 million this year, said eMarketer, double last year's figure.
Samsung's Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, announced in late March, are set to go on sale starting on April 21, but one feature will be notably missing on smartphones sold in the United States - Samsung's Bixby voice assistant.
Samsung is planning to delay the launch of the English-language version of Bixby, reports The Wall Street Journal, due to performance issues discovered over the course of the last few weeks.
The English-language version of Bixby could be delayed until the end of May, according to a source that spoke to The Wall Street Journal, but Samsung has not made a final decision on timing. A Samsung spokesperson confirmed that the Bixby service will not be available in the United States until "later this spring."
During internal tests in recent weeks, the performance of Bixby's voice recognition in English has lagged behind that of the virtual assistant's performance in Korean, these people said, and company executives are still discussing when to make Bixby available in English.
Samsung's Bixby virtual assistant was first announced in March, ahead of the debut of the Galaxy S8 and S8+. According to Samsung, Bixby is "fundamentally different" than competing products like Siri and Cortana because it is able to be deeply integrated into apps.
Samsung also says Bixby is intelligent enough to understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge. Bixby was built on technology that was acquired from Viv, an AI virtual assistant created by some of the same people who originally built Siri.
As a major feature in the Galaxy S8, with a dedicated button on the left side of the device, Bixby's absence could deter customers from purchasing Samsung's new smartphone.
The Galaxy S8 and the S8+ feature a 5.8 or 6.2-inch AMOLED display, a 12-megapixel rear camera, an 8-megapixel front-facing camera, IP68 water resistance, iris scanning and facial recognition capabilities, a Snapdragon 835 processor, and 4GB RAM. Pricing on the S8 starts at $750 while pricing on the S8+ starts at $850.
Samsung said Bixby will be "fundamentally different" than virtual assistants like Siri and Cortana in that it will be deeply integrated within apps. The interface will be able to support almost every task that an app is capable of performing using conventional touch commands, rather than just a few selected tasks.
When using a Bixby-enabled application, users will be able to call upon Bixby at any time and it will understand the current context and state of the application and will allow users to carry out the current work-in-progress continuously. Bixby will allow users to weave various modes of interactions including touch or voice at any context of the application.
Samsung added that Bixby will be intelligent enough to understand commands with incomplete information and execute the commanded task to the best of its knowledge, and the interface will then prompt users to provide more information and "take the execution of the task in piecemeal."
Samsung said Bixby, at its core, is about removing friction. The interface will have a dedicated button on the left side of the Galaxy S8, and its supposed completeness, contextual awareness, and cognitive tolerance is designed to make using the smartphone more seamless and intuitive.
Dr. Injong Rhee, Samsung's head of research and development for software and services, speaking with The Verge:
"A lot of other agents are focused on being knowledgeable, providing answers to fact-based questions, glorified extensions of search. Bixby is capable of developing a new interface to our devices, or devices that are going to host Bixby."
Bixby will initially be limited to ten preinstalled apps on the Galaxy S8. The intelligent interface will gradually expand to Samsung's other smartphones, and even its other products like TVs, wearables, and air conditioners, while Samsung plans to open up Bixby to third-party apps in the future.