Yesterday, Samsung launched its flagship phones, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. With a new design and a stunning screen, the phones are turning heads. An important announcement made yesterday concerned the introduction of Samsung's own AI personal assistant bot, Bixby.
Some days earlier, Samsung had officially unveiled the artificial intelligence assistant to the world through a blog post. The Korean phonemaker claimed that the assistant would be "fundamentally different" from its competitors already out in the market. This claim to uniqueness has been made by every AI assistant maker including Google, Apple, and Amazon.
In its current form, Bixby is available in English and Korean. Right now, the tasks it can perform and the apps supported by it are limited. Samsung's bet is to make Bixby so powerful over time that a user can make it do anything with voice commands that she can do with touch.
In its presentation last evening, it was clear that Samsung wants Bixby to be always available to the user regardless of which screen is open on the phone. It achieves this by including a special button on the side of the device to activate Bixby. The user just has to click on the button and once activated, Bixby will understand the context. For instance, you can send a screenshot or share a link through a voice command from any screen.
Samsung has installed Bixby in 10 of its own Android apps for now. It plans on installing it in more third-party apps, such as Google Play Music. According to a report in the Verge, Bixby currently lets you perform such nifty tasks as rotating photos, playing videos and even casting a video to the TV.
Samsung has also enabled Bixby to interact with the phone camera and identify a product you have taken a photo of, or suggest restaurants around a place captured in the camera. However, data will be limited at the moment, both in terms of products and places. By comparison, Google's Assistant does a fantastic job of finding nearby places, and Siri does a decent job as well on the iPhone.
Bixby has its own home screen as well, reminiscent of the Google Now screen. For now, it is going to be present in a limited number of Samsung phones but will over time be integrated into other devices. Bixby's launch in Galaxy S8 is similar to Google Assistant's launch in the flagship Pixel phone, though Assistant was also present in Allo and Google Home in a different form factor.
Google switched gears once it saw Amazon's Alexa racing ahead by rolling out the Assistant to all the Android phones running Marshmallow 6.0 and above.
A look at how AI bots have fared so far presents a mixed picture at best. Users are not really impressed by Siri, Google Assistant is still quite new and Amazon Alexa is not really present in phones yet.
So, Samsung has a good opportunity to give the AI personal assistant a direction. Encouragingly, the company announced that Bixby will not be limited to phones. Yet, the last time the company tried to build a platform over multiple devices was the Tizen open source operating system. Tizen ran in smartphones, TVs and other devices but now we just catch a few stray glimpses of the OS. Samsung doubtless realizes that it needs to tread on this path carefully.