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First look at Samsung’s Bixby assistant

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In the world of artificial intelligent assistants, you’re perhaps most familiar with Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Amazon Alexa. Samsung wants to be counted in that list and today formally introduced Bixby, a service designed to simplify your life and help manage your connected devices. News of the AI assistant had been previously released, but here’s our first look at what Bixby can do.

“It’s really about leveraging intelligence that’s not only intuitive, but helpful,” explained Mok Oh, a vice president for service strategy at Samsung Electronics. “The current state of voice, in terms of natural language processing (NLP), is intuitive because you can utter natural language and it will understand you. But productivity falls short. A lot of people would use it for simple tasks like a timer, an extension of search, where’s the next movie is showing, or general Q&A. What we want to do is bridge the gap between where we are with the utility and helpfulness of the voice agent, and where we want to go, [which] is where mobile devices are today.”

Above: Setting up Bixby on the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

Samsung hasn’t disclosed Bixby’s origins, and some have speculated that the company’s leveraging technology from its $215 million Viv Labs acquisition. But it’s clear that Samsung intends to have the AI assistant serve as the foundation for helping you manage your connected devices, as well as getting more done on your phone.

Activating Bixby is similar to waking Siri or Google Assistant: Use the wake word “Bixby” or press a button, which in Samsung’s case is located on the side of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, not the home button. Samsung boasted that “whatever you can do with touch, you can do with voice” and that different permutations have been accounted for to ensure Bixby understands what action you intend.

Should Bixby not fully understand you, it will do whatever it does understand and then stop and ask you for more information, which means it won’t throw an error message automatically if it can’t process the entire request. It’s also billed as being contextual so it will look at what you want done in the confines of the app you’re in, be it an internet browser, messaging app, camera, gallery, email, or third-party app. During demonstrations, Oh showed the AI’s potential in rotating photos by voice and applying filters, along with other functionality. At launch, only a handful of apps have received support for Bixby, including Samsung’s native services, but there are plans to make a software development kit (SDK) available to app makers.

Above: The Bixby home screen on the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

But it’s more than just voice — the camera plays an important role. Samsung said Bixby can understand 52 different languages, QR codes, business cards, and other objects. If you take a photograph of a landmark or restaurant, it’ll tell you more about it, and it can even help you shop for goods.

There’s a special place for Bixby on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+. Before, if you swiped right on the screen, you’d get Flipboard, but that has been replaced by Hello Bixby, a daily dashboard of reminders, tasks, schedules, trending topics, recent emails worth reading, and much more.

Samsung hasn’t disclosed specific partners already supporting its AI assistant, but it’s clear Foursquare, YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix are among them.

Above: Using Bixby on the Samsung S8 is similar to using Siri on an iPhone.

Image Credit: Ken Yeung/VentureBeat

It should be noted that Samsung only permitted a controlled demonstration of Bixby, so reporters were not able to use the service during our hands-on time. However, there is potential for the AI to play a big part in helping to manage the entire Samsung ecosystem of products, including ones that are connected through the company’s SmartThings hub.

At this point, some may find Bixby limiting because of the small number of apps supporting it. But remember it took Apple a few years to open Siri up to developers. And the marketplace is exploding — with new actions for Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa popping up almost daily — so we might see more announcements in the months after Bixby’s debut.

Of course, we’ll have to wait until April 21 to see how well Samsung’s newest product really stacks up, as that’s the day when the Galaxy S8 and S8+ will be available for purchase.

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