Samsung introduced Bixby earlier this year — and with the dedication of an entire button to the voice-controlled assistant, fans had high hopes. It’s been over two months since the release of the Samsung Galaxy S8, and Bixby is still trying to find its place.
So what can Bixby do and how does it compare to its main Android competitor, Google Assistant?
Samsung announced its new AI assistant with fanfare on its #UnboxYourPhone where it talks about its latest flagship devices. The company has promised a smart assistant that will make the Internet of Things easier — along with a dedicated Bixby Vision feature.
“Fundamentally different from other voice agents or assistants on the market, Bixby offers a deeper experience,” Samsung said in a statement following the announcement.
It is assumed that AI differs from others due to the ability to interact with multiple applications, understanding the context and its tolerance for deviations from normal commands.
AI capabilities at launch included:
- Individual news alerts.
- Weather updates.
- Bixby Vision.
- Activity tracking.
- Specific text commands.
Check out all the ways to use Bixby on your phone
Bixby Vision functionality has been one of the assistant’s most promising features. It can recognize the object in real life when you take a picture and then search the Internet for similar products.
However, when people were able to use this feature, it was hardly used. Image recognition still uses broad categories. Photographing a particular product, such as your Fossil mechanical watch, will not cause variations of the same design or brand. You will simply get a list of hours as a whole.
It won’t help you if you want to identify a specific product. If you’re looking for alternatives, the lists are so broad that you’re better off looking for yourself.
A more useful feature is the ability to recognize landmarks, but again, this is something you probably already know. This does not necessarily identify a lesser known building for you.
Thus, Bixby Vision turned out to be almost a gimmick with possible potential.
Bixby no voice
But what about the rest of Bixby? AI seemed to offer an alternative to Google Assistant and Siri. It even had a launch date that was set to arrive in some territories before the full rollout of Google Assistant on older Android devices.
But many eventually turned out to be a product that was so lacking. My own Bixby experience when browsing the phone was «Oh cool» when the novelty disappeared within a few minutes. Nothing has popped up as a real reason to choose it from Google Assistant except that Bixby was on the S8 before Assistant was deployed in South Africa.
The Bixby home screen was a more minimalist Google Now interface, but it didn’t offer anything else that I wasn’t used to.
Most of the potential was with voice commands, but Samsung had some bad news on that front.
Bixby’s language support should initially start with Korean and then expand to English. After a two-month wait, American users who signed up for the beta got their first look at Bixby Voice at the end of June, but the rest of the Americans and English speakers outside the region will have to wait even longer.
This is great for people with beta access in the US, but for those outside of America or South Korea, the vast majority of the best AI functionality is yet to come.
The most important defining aspect of Bixby Voice compared to Google Assistant is the increased specificity of voice commands. Instead of just launching the camera, you can instruct the assistant to open the camera in panorama mode. You can even set a photo timer.
Some other commands include opening settings and increasing display brightness.
This increased control through voice commands is one of the most promising aspects of AI. It may even outperform Google Assistant, which still has more generic commands. However, there is theory and then there is execution. Since Bixby is still in beta, some have noticed sluggish performance and an inability to answer questions outside of teams.
Samsung may be hesitant to compare itself directly to Google Assistant as they see Bixby as a complementary app rather than a competitor. But with a huge focus on AI through its own dedicated button, the company is definitely pushing you to use Bixby.
Google Assistant definitely had more time to sort out my kinks and mistakes. The internet company released its preview alongside the Google Allo app last year.
But Assistant’s predecessor, Google Now, was already an established and useful tool for Android users. A certain number of commands were possible — you could initiate a Google search and you could set alarms and reminders.
The Google Assistant has brought all this along with smarter and more nuanced features, as well as charm.
More apps can now be controlled with Assistant, and it integrates with other Google apps to add even more features. For example, with Google Photos, you can request specific photos through an assistant (like «Show me your photos»).
The assistant also takes on a slight personality, with a sense of humor programmed into him and the ability to make simple conversations.
To the question «How do you compare with Siri?» Google Assistant replies: “It’s hard to compare, we’re like apples and oranges. Because Siri works for Apple and I… love oranges.”
There are even a few mini-games you can play with the AI if you get especially bored. You have a feature of magical eight balls called Crystal Ball, you can guess movies based on emoji, and even play tic-tac-toe and solitaire.
It doesn’t have the same level of specificity as Bixby commands, but it does have some useful special features. For example, you can instruct the assistant to send a text message to a contact by dictating a specific message.
With its predecessor in voice functionality, rollout to older devices, and familiarity thanks to its predecessor, Google Assistant works a lot in its favor.
Can Bixby get the upper hand after all?
Much of Bixby’s hope rests on its future potential, especially in light of Samsung’s smart device ecosystem.
Although Google has its own smart devices such as the Google Home, their distribution outside the US has been limited. Even the Google Pixel hasn’t made it to all the markets it was originally intended to.
Samsung, on the other hand, has recently started promoting its IoT devices. detail, even in emerging markets. At the Samsung Africa Forum 2017, Samsung announced plans to roll out new smart devices and its SmartThings hub across the continent, starting in South Africa.
With so many Samsung fans around the world having Samsung smart TVs and smart appliances in their homes, wouldn’t Bixby be ready to put it all together?