The hype surrounding the announcement of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ was palpable, not just because of the hardware innovations everyone was expecting, but also on the software front. Bixby, Samsung’s home-grown AI powered assistant was something I’d really looked forward to seeing in action at this announcement, given how Samsung themselves talked about it. A week prior to tonight’s unveiling, Samsung had made claims of how Bixby would be completely different from what’s out there in the market.
Bixby, up until tonight, was touted by an AI that would be deeply integrated with apps. It was said that the AI would give us a whole new way of interacting with apps, without having to swipe as much as we normally do. Unfortunately, from what I saw of the demo, it looks no different from what Google Assistant or even Siri can do (in some instances). The demo showed off how it can send your location to a friend, which is great, but we had hoped it would have been more deeply integrated with apps. Maybe the ability to browse through the phone’s interface or an app’s interface with purely voice commands would have set the app apart from the likes of Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. It should be mentioned that Samsung Bixby can translate 52 languages while Siri can only translate 30. Google hasn’t shared an official number on how many languages Google Assistant can translate, but given the way their Neural Network is developing, we wouldn’t be surprised if the system overtakes every other AI out there.
Different but not Unique
There are a few things Bixby does that Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri can’t. For example, you can use the camera in conjunction with Bixby and the AI. Bixby will be able to recognize the objects in your scene and make recommendations accordingly. The demo showed off today at the launch even talked of Bixby recognizing the infamous Flatiron building in New York and being able to make suggestions for restaurants and things to do nearby. This could be a super handy feature for tourists, but it’s a feature we’ve seen before, in an app called City Lens by Nokia. City Lens was an augmented reality app by Nokia that leveraged the company’s database to place points of interest on the screen. You could wave your phone in any direction, and the points of interest that are available in that direction would pop up.
Great Features, but not for India
What Bixby can leverage is the e-commerce space. You can take a photo of any object, and the AI can find that item for sale through one of the partners that have tied up with Samsung. How viable the service would be in India is anyone’s guess, given that not everything is sold online in the country. For example, if you saw an amazing vase at that one party you attended at a stranger’s house, there’s a slim chance you’ll be able to find it online using Bixby in India, given that the nation is still mostly an offline-sales country for most goods that fall outside the “General consumption” umbrella.
Playing the long game
All this isn’t to say that Samsung’s efforts to build their own AI has gone to waste. As a company that is regarded as the biggest in the consumer electronics world, Bixby fits right into the middle of the ecosystem as a bridge between your smartphone and every other Samsung made “smart” device. The presentation talked of going to the supermarket and not having to worry about forgetting your grocery shopping list because Bixby can talk to your refrigerator and get a list of items inside the fridge. Imagine a scenario where you’re able to turn on your air-conditioner 20 minutes before you get home so that once you arrive, your room is a temperature of your liking. When it comes to an ecosystem for the home, there’s no brand that has a presence like Samsung and with Bixby, they’ve set the foundation for a connected future.
Google has already started integrating the Google Assistant with various IoT devices such as Google Home, Google Wi-Fi, Nest thermostats etc while Apple’s Siri is still a more iPhone-centric feature. Google doesn’t have the penetration that Samsung has when it comes to consumer electronics, which is where Samsung has the upper hand. The company could build Bixby to the be central node connecting all the smart devices in our homes in the future, be it the refrigerator, washing machine, the thermostat or even the lighting in your home. While Samsung’s portfolio of smart devices is already pretty extensive there is nothing stopping the Korean company from taking on partners who would support Bixby. While today’s announcement of Bixby may not paint the AI as a solid contender to Google Assistant or Siri, what it is, is a great first step towards Samsung’s connected ecosystem.