Bixby essential guide: Everything you need to know about Samsung's voice assistant

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Your essential guide to Samsung's Bixby

Bixby is Samsung's voice assistant, similar to Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana.

Right now it lives on Samsung phones and, while Samsung is making announcements left, right and centre about Bixby coming to TVs and fridges, unlike its rivals, there is no smart speaker to bring it all together – at least not yet. Bixby is also not as mature in its abilities and accuracy as its rivals, leading some to discount it before it's really got going.

We're not one to leave an AI assistant out, though, completists as we are, and there's a lot of potential given how much Samsung kit is already in our homes. Here's our essential guide to Bixby.


Bixby: What can it do?

Bixby essential guide: Everything you need to know about Samsung's voice assistant

Okay, let's get into it. Bixby is based on Samsung's old S Voice technology, which you may have used if you own a Samsung smartphone. It's currently available in English and Korean languages. And so far it has had a slightly different approach to voice requests to say Amazon (shopping); Google (search), Apple (music) and Microsoft (office).

Read this: The Cortana smart home explained

First up, there's quite a lot of focus on photos and media. You can control music and movies on apps including YouTube, Pandora, Google Play Music and Samsung's native internet app. You can also say things like "Send my most recent photo to Lily" and it will access your gallery and send the pic. If you have a Note 8, say, you can voice control the size, style or colour of the S Pen while you're using it.

More usefully, Bixby can talk to mapping apps like Google Maps for location based queries and it will also talk to apps like Uber for requests like the classic "call me an Uber to take me home". Via the "experimental" Bixby Labs (read: it might not work just right), Bixby also works with Instagram, Gmail, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and Yelp. Samsung's own apps like Samsung Pay and Samsung Health also have voice integrations with Bixby.

Then, of course, there's the Bixby smart home control stuff which we reckon is going to grow and grow in 2018. This works via the Samsung SmartThings (previously Connect) app and includes the ability to control smart home devices and turn on scenes like "dinner time" which dims your smart lightbulbs and turns your phone onto Do Not Disturb mode.

At MWC 2018, Eui Suk Chung, EVP and head of software and AI for Samsung Electronics, said that he wants Bixby to become "ubiquitous, on any and all devices; personal and open, inviting future growth and innovation" and that the AI assistant is "learning every day" and getting better.


Bixby: What devices is it built into?

Bixby essential guide: Everything you need to know about Samsung's voice assistant

Here's the thing. Bixby is still pretty new and also clearly being positioned as a high-end feature, so the voice assistant is officially built into recent Samsung smartphones including the new Samsung Galaxy S9, the Samsung Galaxy S8, the Samsung Galaxy S8+, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Active and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. These phones all have a dedicated Bixby button below the volume buttons on the left edge.

And it isn't the entire list, thankfully. Bixby can be sideloaded onto other Samsung Galaxy phones running Android Nougat or later via the Bixby APK.

These phones include the Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and on the mid-range front, the Galaxy J3, J5, J7 and J7+. Last year's Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.0 tablet can also get in on the Bixby action.

Read next: Living with Samsung's The Frame TV

The only other device Bixby is built right into is – oddly enough – Samsung's Family Hub 2.0 smart fridge. But at CES 2018, Samsung announced that it will add 'Bixby 2.0' to its 2018 series of smart TVs, which is big news. As per Android TV, they will come with remotes with built-in mics and access to Samsung's SmartThings smart home hub on the big screen. At MWC, execs mentioned the ability to share images across phones, TVs and smart fridge screens running Bixby.

Bixby 2.0 apparently focuses on personalisation for multiple users in one household and also the real key to a good voice assistant – natural language processing going on in the background.

It's also worth noting that if you have Bixby running on multiple devices – say a phone and a TV – the voice assistant will run on the device closest to you.


Bixby: When will we see a smart speaker?

Bixby essential guide: Everything you need to know about Samsung's voice assistant

This story has been sliding about all over the place. We've known Samsung was building a smart speaker for more than a year but there were a few dips in which execs reportedly were not "enthusiastic" about the project, codenamed Vega, around summer 2017. The main concern? That Amazon is "unbeatable" in smart speakers.

Still, we now have confirmation that a Samsung smart speaker powered by Bixby will launch in the second half of 2018 – that's according to D.J. Koh, head of Samsung Mobile, talking at MWC 2018. Koh also said it will be a premium speaker, not a "mass market" device, but that we might see different tiers of pricing.

In an earlier, well sourced report – from December 2017 – anonymous sources told Bloomberg that the speaker will focus on audio quality and smart home controls and sell for less around $200 – a clear shot at the quite expensive Apple HomePod, though not quite low enough to compete with Echo and Google Home speakers.

Apart from that, all we know is that it won't have a screen (though alternate devices might), it will light up on top – as is now quite common on these speakers – and it may launch in a few variants of colours. Sources also say it will be between the size of an Echo and the HomePod.


Bixby: The Samsung smart home

Bixby essential guide: Everything you need to know about Samsung's voice assistant

As we said, Samsung has a big advantage going for it in the form of its smart TVs which act as a living room hub, and Bixby is coming to these later this year. The only problem here is price – do you splash on a voice controlled, does-everything Samsung smart TV or a cheap Amazon Echo?

The baked in Bixby in Samsung's Family Hub 2.0 smart fridges is less important, but still interesting as Alexa heads to the kitchen too.

Samsung's long term play, though, is to have *all* its tech "IOT ready" and "intelligent" by 2020. That's a bold ambition that the company has repeated over the past few months, and one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Add to this Project Ambience – a program for adding Wi-Fi smarts and Bixby to all your regular, non-connected tech via chips and add-on dongles – and the Korean tech giant is really cooking. Ambience will connect devices and appliances to the SmartThings ecosystem which already includes a dedicated hub and a starter pack with sensors.

In short, there's a lot more to come where Bixby and the smart home are concerned – we'll be keeping an eye on it through 2018.

TAGGED   speakers   smart home

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