Software

Samsung's Bixby: The smart person's guide

Samsung is taking a big chance by adding another digital assistant to that saturated market. Here's everything you need to know about Bixby.

Amazon has Alexa, Google has Assistant, Microsoft has Cortana, Apple has Siri ... and now the already crowded digital assistant market has a new, and incredibly exclusive, member from Samsung: Bixby.

Bixby is only available on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, which has a dedicated hardware button for it, and initial reviews have been less than stellar. So does Bixby have what it takes to swim with the big fish?

TechRepublic's smart person's guide about Bixby is a quick introduction to this new digital assistant, as well as a "living" guide that will be updated periodically as new features are released and device availability changes.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is Bixby? Bixby is Samsung's new AI digital assistant. It has most of the same features as other assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, along with a few additional ones that Samsung wants to use to change the way users interact with their devices. Early reviews, however, have been less than stellar.
  • Why does Bixby matter? Bixby is another entry into the already crowded digital assistant market, which leads a lot of people to question Samsung's strategy. If Bixby ends up being able to do all the things Samsung says, it could push the digital assistant market forward, but that may end up benefiting Apple, Amazon, and Google unless Bixby can gain more market traction.
  • Who does Bixby affect? Right now Bixby only affects Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ owners—It's not available on any other devices.
  • When is Bixby happening? Bixby has been available on the Galaxy S8 series since launch; Bixby's voice capabilities just came to the device on July 19, 2017.
  • How do I use Bixby? If you don't have a Galaxy S8 or S8+ you're not going to be able to use Bixby. If you do have one of those two devices, you can use Bixby by pressing the dedicated hardware button on the side of the device and then saying "Bixby" or long pressing the home button.

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (PDF download) (TechRepublic)

What is Bixby?

bixby-infographicmain1.jpg
Image: Samsung

Bixby is Samsung's entry into the already crowded digital assistant market. The Korean electronics manufacturer is trying to differentiate Bixby by making it less of a search assistant and more of a way to control your phone.

There are three basic components to Bixby: Voice, Vision, and Home. Voice is the component most people will recognize: It's the part of Bixby that responds to voice like other digital assistants. This critical component wasn't included on Galaxy S8 devices at launch and only recently came to the device.

Vision uses machine learning to recognize objects Bixby sees through the camera and can do many of the things Google's Vision API will be able to do once it's added to Assistant.

Home is Samsung's Bixby-centered alternative for Google Now. It's accessed in the same way (by swiping left) and contains app-specific cards just like Google Now.

Early reviews of Bixby, both prior to and after the release of its voice component, have been negative. There has been a lot of user frustration around the inclusion of the physical Bixby button, specifically Samsung's battles against users attempts to remap it. Apps and workarounds are available, but they tend to be disabled by every update to the Galaxy S8 and S8+.

Bixby has been roundly criticized for being forced on S8 users, and many reviews consider it incomplete as of right now. With Google Assistant living side by side with Bixby on Galaxy S8 devices, many users will likely switch to using the tried-and-true assistant from Google instead of working with Bixby's growing pains.

Additional resources

Why does Bixby matter?

Samsung is definitely taking a chance by entering into the digital assistant market. Competition is fierce between large companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple and adding an assistant to just one device family (without removing Google Assistant at that) seems like a plan that's half realized at best.

Those criticisms assume that Bixby is doing the exact same things as Siri and Google Assistant, though, and it definitely isn't. As opposed to just being a search tool, Bixby's three components is designed to work together to change the way users interact with their devices.

Bixby is capable of responding to commands that are more complex than those Siri or Google Assistant can handle, as CNET found when testing it. Therein lies Samsung's goal: To eliminate the user's need to manually perform actions—simply tell Bixby what you want, and it'll do the legwork.

SEE: Android Mobile Apps: Beginner to Published on Google Play (TechRepublic Academy)

If Samsung succeeds in changing how users interact with their devices (as opposed to Bixby simply being a gimmick), it will likely guide other digital assistant makers to do the same. The question then becomes: How much will these new features actually benefit Samsung?

Bixby's success, at least in terms of its capabilities, will likely lead Google, Apple, and Amazon to incorporate those features into their assistants, and their market reach is far greater than Samsung's. Bixby matters, therefore, because it's doing the development, beta testing, and fixing the mistakes for its competitors.

Watch for Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant to have the same features as Bixby—only without the bumpy start—in the coming year or so.

Additional resources

Who does Bixby affect?

Bixby is only available on Galaxy S8 and S8+ devices right now, so the pool of who is affected by it is quite small relative to the number of Samsung devices on the market. Samsung has said it does plan to add Bixby to other devices, but it hasn't said when.

Additional resources

When is Bixby happening?

Bixby was initially released along with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ on April 21, 2017; for US consumers that only included two of Bixby's three components, with the voice activation features coming on July 18, 2017, while Korean speakers had the Voice component from launch. Samsung is currently working to add German support to Bixby voice but a release date hasn't been specified.

Samsung announced in May 2017 that it would be adding Bixby to other devices and its smart refrigerators, but there haven't been any indications of when that will be happening.

Additional resources

How do I use Bixby?

Bixby is ready to use on all Galaxy S8 and S8+ phones.

If you have either of those models and want to use Bixby you can do so by pressing the Bixby button on the side of the phone, swiping left to Bixby Home, long pressing on the home button, or putting something in front of the camera that Bixby can recognize (just like Google Lens).

Additional resources

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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