Forget about Google Assistant, Samsung's next Android flagships will sport their own voice assistant: Bixby.
Samsung has confirmed that Bixby is alive and real (in virtual terms, of course) and that Bixby isn't just something that's going to be limited to mobile devices, but common to a wide range of Samsung devices.
It's very early days for this new AI, but here's everything we know and everything you need to know about Samsung Bixby.
What is Samsung Bixby?
Samsung announced at TechCrunch Disrupt in November 2016 that it was developing its first voice assistant based on technology gained through its acquisition of Viv, an artificial intelligence firm run by Dag Kittlaus, co-creator of Apple's Siri. Samsung bought Viv a month earlier, with the purpose of going toe-to-toe with Apple's Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa, and Microsoft's Cortana.
In November 2016, it was revealed Samsung had filed for a trademark in South Korea that sought the protection of the word "Bixby". The trademark application explained that the brand would be used for computer software for personal information management, mobile and PC apps uses for voice recognition, and software enabling hands-free use of a mobile phone through voice recognition.
Now fully confirmed via a Samsung blog post, we know that Bixby is an AI system that's designed to make device interaction easier, specifically designed to avoid the complexity of increasingly fully-featured devices. It will be making its debut on the Samsung Galaxy S8 on 29 March, but is designed to work across a range of Samsung devices.
How does Samsung Bixby work?
Samsung has confirmed some of the underlying principles of Bixby, detailing that there were three things that out help drive Bixby forward:
- Bixby is a complete solution: it is designed to let you carry out a full range of interactions, rather than launching an app for example, or carrying out a single task. Samsung says that Bixby will be able to do just about everything you can do with an app using touch.
- Bixby is contextually aware: this is one of the buzzwords of AI, demonstrated by Google Assistant, for example. This will mean that Bixby can recognise the state that the app is in and take the right actions based on your requests, also letting you mix voice or touch.
- Bixby understands natural language: this means that you don't need to use set phrases, but you can give incomplete information and Bixby can interpret and take action. Natural language recognition has been key to the rise of Alexa, for example, and is now a key element of modern AI.
Although Samsung has detailed that Bixby exists and that it's coming to a phone near you, very little has been said about the actual functionality of the new service.
What does Samsung Bixby do?
Here's what we know from Samsung and from leaks and rumours about what Bixby will do:
Galaxy S8 Bixby button
Samsung has confirmed that the Samsung Galaxy S8 will have a dedicated Bixby button, meaning it's going to be central to the experience. Samsung says that rather than unlocking your phone and opening the phone app to place a call, you could just use Bixby for the whole action, with faster results.
System-wide S Voice successor
Samsung used to push S Voice as a service, but that's generally gone into decline and Google Voice has subsequently become a much better system. Google Voice is linked into Google Assistant now, and for Samsung, Bixby will come into play. Samsung has detailed that Bixby is a voice service, so it should be a single-point of interaction on a device. We don't yet know if you'll get Google Assistant on the Galaxy S8 too.
Contextual search and visual search
Thanks to system-wide functionality, SamMobile said a user would be able to ask Bixby to dig up and show a specific picture in the Gallery app, among other things. Bixby will also offer answers and actions based on context, just like Google Assistant, and it will provide visual search and act as an OCR tool using the camera of the Galaxy S8. The standard camera app will feature its own Bixby button. This is all yet to be confirmed.
These new camera tools will allow Bixby to recignise and process whatever the camera sees. Just aim your phone, press the Bixby button to capture an image, then Bixby will analyse the image, and identify objects or text. From there, it will help you search for that object (based on the image data or the optical character recognition data), and it may even allow you to purchase the object. Again, this is still to be confirmed.
Samsung could include technology that will allow you to process payments through voice commands. The feature is supposedly being developed under the name Bixby Pay, according to SamMobile.
Third-party app integrations
In November 2016, Injong Rhee, chief technology officer for Samsung's mobile division, told the Korea Herald that Samsung is developing a major AI interface, based on open AI platform, that will enable users to perform different tasks available from different apps just through voice commands, meaning they won't need to jump through separate apps just to order pizza and call an Uber.
Samsung has also confirmed that it is planning to release an SDK to enable integration with Bixby. We'd expect big mobile brands to jump on board swiftly.
Injong Rhee, chief technology officer for Samsung's mobile division, told The Wall Street Journal in October that the Galaxy S8 would feature technology from Viv Labs that offers services "significantly differentiated" from Siri, Google Assistant, etc. He said Samsung is planning to use the Galaxy S8 as a "springboard to expand" its AI technology into its other products, like home appliances.
This has been confirmed by Samsung, saying that (as an example), you'll be able to control your air conditioning using Bixby - all it needs is a connection to the internet and the hardware to detect voice.
Multiple language support
ET News said Bixby will be able to support seven or eight different languages, including English, Korean, and Chinese, so that it can be instantly rolled out in a number of territories without needing a future update. By comparison, Google Assistant on the Pixel phones can currently only support English and German, although Siri can understand languages from 36 different countries.
This is yet to be confirmed.
What does Bixby's logo look like?
Neowin spotted a Samsung trademark application filed with the European Trade Mark and Design Network. It's for a “B” logo that may end up being the logo used for the Bixby AI. The filing explained that the logo is for "interactive computer software enabling exchange of information", meaning an assistant. However, Neowin noted the logo appears similar to "8", which might mirror the Galaxy S8's branding.
Although Bixby has been confirmed by Samsung, it hasn't as yet confirmed what Bixby will look like, or how the logo will appear.
Will my device get Samsung Bixby?
This is something we currently don't know. There's no word on whether Samsung will enable Bixby on Galaxy S7 or the Gear S3 for example, but as Samsung has confirmed that all you need is an internet connection and a microphone, it seems likely that Samsung will enable it for other devices.
When will Samsung Bixby be available?
Bixby was officially confirmed on 20 March via a blog post from Samsung. It has been confirmed that Bixby will be on the Samsung Galaxy S8, which will debut 29 March and probably go on sale 21 April in the US.
The roll-out of Bixby will start with smartphones, but then move to other appliances. Samsung has confirmed that televisions and air conditioners will be able to be controlled though Bixby, but there's no confirmation of exact dates. We suspect that Samsung's 2017 QLED TVs are using the new technology.
We will keep you updated on all the developments of Bixby as we learn more.