Samsung introduced its voice-enabled intelligent assistant, Bixby, with the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ smartphones, and it is also available on the Galaxy Note 8. Now, six months after launching Bixby, the South Korean technology giant has announced Bixby 2.0, which will support third-party apps and smart home devices. Named after a bridge in California, the second-generation version of Bixby is slated to arrive in 2018. However, Samsung hasn’t specified any timeframe for the release.
By enabling Bixby to interact with smart home devices, along with third-party app support, Samsung is positioning Bixby as a direct competitor to Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa. BGR India had a chance to interact with Ji Soo Yi, Samsung Electronics VP, Mobile Communications Business at the company’s headquarters in Seoul. He offered some interesting insights into where Bixby 2.0 is headed, and what to expect from the intelligent voice assistant.
The start of paradigm shift
Aiming to bring a connected experience that is ubiquitous, personal, and open; Samsung believes that Bixby 2.0 will be a fundamental leap for digital assistants. Ji Soo Yi mentioned the year 1998 was when computers became mainstream with increasing adoption, whereas mobile phones, smartphones in particular, started showing up in 2008. Now, a decade later, the world is ready for the next leap – digital assistants. ALSO READ: Samsung Bixby Voice: Here’s the list of voice commands, so you can master the newest AI assistant around
Today, we have digital assistants in our smartphones – be it Android, iOS or Windows Phone device. Even companies like Amazon are increasing their focus on digital assistant Alexa, and has made it available on a range of smart speakers. Even Google Assistant is available on Google Home smart speaker, Apple’s Siri is making its way to HomePods, and Microsoft’s Cortana is also appearing on smart home speakers. ALSO READ: Samsung Galaxy S8 Long Term Review: 5 months on, is it still capable?
Yi mentions that Bixby 2.0 will be coming to more devices that are beyond smartphones and tablets. These include TVs, refrigerators, home speakers, and other connected technology devices. And with support for third-party apps, developers can put their services on all devices without having to write a different code every time to support a new device.
Bixby is different from other digital assistants
I’ve been using Bixby since the last couple of months, and having already experienced Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana before, I can say that Samsung’s digital assistant is different. There are simple things that all assistants can do – answer trivia questions, set alarms and reminders, toggle Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, call and text your contacts, and more. Google Assistant and Siri also let you send WhatsApp messages to your contacts.
However, Bixby is designed to do a lot more. You can ask Bixby to click a photo or selfie. Within the camera app, Bixby can also change aspect ratio, video resolution, apply and remove filters, among other interesting things with simple voice commands. You can ask Bixby to delete your last photo, or create a new folder in gallery and copy photos from last week to that folder. What’s more, you can also ask Bixby to upload your last photo on Facebook or Twitter with a caption, and it will do that too. This is simply not something that competitors can do, and with version 2.0, Samsung’s digital assistant is set to get even smarter. ALSO READ: Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review: The beast unleashed!
Support for smart home devices
Samsung believes that digital assistants can play a bigger role on devices that we use. The enhanced natural language capabilities on Bixby 2.0 will enable complex processing, and more natural commands. This will also enable the intelligent voice assistant to know you and your family members, and tailor its actions, and responses appropriately.
“We will support Bixby on multiple devices, you can touch and type to ask your questions for responses on a smartphone, but you can’t do the same on speakers. So, we want to create a platform for developers to inject their services in any of the IoT devices,” Yi said. “Also, Bixby will offer a uniform experience across devices, so you don’t have to remember how you talk to the speaker or smart TV or a fridge.”
By offering the SDK (software development kit) to third-parties, Samsung is looking at getting as many developers on board as it can. “Self-sustainable ecosystem is essential because that is the only way to support users’ growing personal need,” Yi said. So, for instance, Uber can get the SDK, and integrate Bixby voice commands in its app. This will not only allow you to book an Uber from your smartphone or tablet, but also from other connected devices such as a smart TV, home speakers and more.
The shift to cloud for uniform experience
Right now, Bixby is offered as a part of TouchWiz UX on Samsung’s flagship smartphones. All the commands are deeply linked with the operating system, but if the idea is to get more customers to use Bixby, it has to be made available on smartphones made by other OEMs too. This is only possible if services are moved to cloud, and it is exactly what Samsung is trying to do.
By moving the command processing to cloud, Samsung can offer a uniform experience across all connected devices. Bixby powered by the cloud can act as a control hub for your device ecosystem, and can also help speed up update process as the digital assistant will not be deeply linked within the OS.
Languages support and process of training an AI
As of now, Bixby is available in 200 different countries with over 10 million registered users. However, it is only available in Korean and English (US) languages. With India being a major market, Samsung has released a customized version of Bixby voice that has been developed at the company’s R&D centre in Bengaluru. It is trained to recognize Indian accents. We asked Yi if Bixby would support Hindi someday, but he declined to comment on the same.
We even asked about the process of training an AI, but Yi didn’t dive in deeper. However, he did say that “different stages require different level of training. First step is to translate speech-to-text, understand the language and there are buckets like flow chart (if this, then that). The information is then processed to get the desired results. Overall, it is a big process that requires an intensive training, with different voice and accents. For the success of voice based assistant, having good data is very important.”
Sure, Samsung seems heavily invested in Bixby and towards bringing the intelligent assistant to many devices. It also has all the means and resources to succeed, and also has a large user base across the globe. It would be interesting to see how Bixby 2.0 will be different, and bring even more devices to the connected world.
Disclaimer: The correspondent was in Seoul, South Korea on Samsung’s invite. Samsung paid for his travel and accommodation in Seoul.