Last week Samsung announced that the Galaxy S8 would ship without Bixby Voice control. It seems unlikely that little bombshell will dissuade anyone from buying the new flagship. It is, after all, a great piece of hardware, as detailed in our recent review.
Still, it’s a notable disappointment for one of the phone’s key selling points and a stumble for a feature that’s designed to point the way forward for the company. At present, the Samsung’s smart assistant has the makings of a compelling feature, but the execution is scattershot.
Bixby can and perhaps will be the great unifying force promised by the company. In its current state, however, it feels like a suite of features added onto Samsung’s already sizable selection of Android add-ons. The company has never wanted for apps. In fact, they’ve long been one of the driving factors it’s used to distinguish itself from the countless other Android manufacturers flooding the market.
That was likely a large part of the reason the company opted to launch its own assistant, after failing to make too much headway with S-Voice. Why settle for Google Assistant when you can make your own in house? Doing so could once and for all unite the Galaxy’s myriad applications under a single, accessible banner and serve as the foundation for broader controls.
After all, recent plays by Amazon, Apple and Google have all demonstrated that smart assistants are the gateway to a lot more than just the weather and silly Wikipedia questions. Among other things, they’re a common language that can serve as an entry point for unifying the smart home – a space in which Samsung is clearly heavily invested with numerous connected appliances.
It’s clear that Samsung is hanging a lot on the software. It even went so far as devoting a full button to Bixby, even as it made a big show of ditching the big home key up front. But an essential part of adoption requires a strong user experience right out of the gate, and in its present form, Bixby doesn’t deliver on the blustery promises the company made ahead of launch, when it promised it would be “revolutionizing phone interfaces.”
Samsung’s acknowledgement of its failure to ship Bixby at press time was less an admission of failure than it was an opportunity for the company to talk up the pieces that are shipping with the phone.
“With its intelligent interface and contextual awareness, Bixby will make your phone more helpful by assisting in completing tasks, telling you what you’re looking at, learning your routine and remembering what you need to do,” it said in a statement sent to TechCrunch following the news. “Key features of Bixby, including Vision, Home and Reminder, will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21. Bixby Voice will be available in the U.S. on the Galaxy S8 later this spring.”
In its current state, Bixby consists of Home, the bit that pops up when you hit the side button; Vision, an image and text scanning service; and Reminder, which, well, lets you create reminders.
This early iteration of Home doesn’t do all that much to set itself apart from myriad other content aggregating mobile services. Vision, meanwhile, is the most promising piece of the offering, adding a shopping feature along the lines of Amazon Flow, which lets users buy things by scanning a label or barcode. That’s coupled with the ability to scan and translate text – definitely a helpful feature for frequent travels.
But as with the S8 itself, which the company promised would be “the beginning of a new way to experience the world” in its keynote, Samsung is setting the bar impossibly high. Sure, there are some compelling features on the horizon, like Voice, which is said to offer a more contextual user experience than Siri and the like. More features derived from the acquisition of Viv like added third-party support could help push it over the top, as well.
At present, Bixby feels like a rushed piece of an otherwise well-formed and long thought out phone. The company has the opportunity to deliver a real groundbreaking software experience in Bixby, one that could truly set its software apart from the rest of its Android brethren and help build a connected future moving forward. As it stands, however, the smart assistant has gotten off on the wrong foot with undelivered potential.