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.