In theory, Bixby is a great move by Samsung. Even its exclusive physical button is a nice touch. But right now, it's a disaster, at least for everyone who doesn’t live in South Korea or the US. This assistant, which activates with voice command, has a long way to go before it starts working with other languages. Therefore, an extra button on the Note 8 will be just as useless as it is on the Galaxy S8.
A pretty useless button that could be used for other things
Samsung has admitted that Bixby isn’t ready to compete with the other assistants on the market, and that’s why it incorporated Google Assistant into the Galaxy S8, and it has collaborated with Amazon Alexa for its smart home products. Bixby has got off to a rough start, and it’s all been a bit disappointing. Galaxy S8 users are furious that they can’t use the Bixby button for something more useful.
We already know that this new button will be incorporated into the upcoming Galaxy Note 8. Samsung is basically just repeating the same mistake (it’s supposed to be a digital and voice assistant, it doesn’t make any sense to have a physical button). However, Google Assistant running on a Raspberry Pi 3 can be activated by clapping without the need of a physical button.
Bixby isn’t available worldwide yet (there are regional and language limitations) but its button is, and it’s on its way to being on two key devices. In many places around the world where they worship Samsung’s high-end range, this button is basically redundant. Plus, it gets in the way when you’re trying to lower the volume.
My outrage grew even more when Samsung blocked the apps that popped up to give different uses to this button, which is dedicated to a feature that can be accessed in multiple ways. Samsung could just turn a blind eye, it wouldn’t cost Samsung anything, but Samsung doesn’t want to give its users the freedom they deserve after they’ve spent around $800 on their device.
Ultimately, at the moment Bixby is pretty much the same as Google Now cards with reminders, Bixby Vision (recognizing images, a bit limited by country) and Bixby Voice (for the two countries that it’s available in right now). I’m not sure if all that sounds good to you or not. It might look promising, but right now it’s very restricted, and I repeat, it has a specific button that could serve, at least right now, for something more productive. You can always get to Bixby with a swipe from the home screen.
Some useful functions but significant limitations with languages
Before the presentation of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, the news that Samsung was working with Viv Labs to equip its new flagships with AI filled us with optimism. Viv collaborated with Apple on the development of Siri, and the results speak for themselves.
However, the disappointment started during the presentation of the Galaxy S8. What could have been the Siri equivalent of Samsung turned out to be an AI monstrosity. That’s the moment we realized that Samsung isn’t Apple or Google and that developing a voice assistant is a monumental project. In fact, despite the Google Assistant being launched in October 2016, it’s still only available in English and German. However, this year Google is planning to include six new languages, so by the end of 2017, Google Assistant should be able to speak Spanish, French, Brazilian-Portuguese, Japanese, Italian and Korean. Siri was presented in 2011, and it comes with a solid list of available languages.
Soon after the Galaxy S8 was released, Bixby was available in Korean, and then, on July 19, the English version was launched, but only in the US. Google Assistant does have restrictions regarding languages, but Bixby has limited languages plus regional limitations. Its voice section is only available in a couple of countries.
One of the best parts of Bixby, which, thankfully, is supported worldwide, is its object recognition. The feature that works the best, since it uses Pinterest’s tech, is its similar image search. The shopping feature still doesn’t recognize the majority of, if any, objects you show it. It doesn’t even recognize the S8, but it does read bar codes and recognize wines pretty well.
Virtual assistants with artificial intelligence could be the future
Virtual assistants are going full steam ahead. The largest tech companies in the world are investing heavily in artificial intelligence. Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and now, Samsung are putting a lot of resources into making sure their machines understand what we want them to. AI is the future and assistants may be one of its first manifestations of this. If Samsung falls off the wagon with Bixby, it might just lose its slice of the AI pie.
In any case, Samsung knows that Bixby, for the moment, doesn’t stand a chance against the other four virtual assistants on the market. If you need any proof, just take a look at how it hasn’t limited the use of Google Assistant on its Galaxy S8.
It’s also looking like Family Hub (Samsung’s smart fridges) may work with Amazon Alexa in the near future. This could mean one of two things: Samsung wants to keep its options open in case Bixby falls through, or it wants to test out what it’s like to work with alternative assistants and learn from it until Bixby is fully developed. In general, Samsung is usually pretty jealous with its tech, and it only makes things that are compatible with its own products. Could it be that not even Samsung is convinced Bixby will work?
What do you think about Samsung’s assistant? Do you think it’ll work? Would you like to be able to use the Bixby button for anything you want?