Bixby's success or failure should improve all smartphones

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Bixby's success or failure should improve all smartphones
Samsung is a strange company in many ways. It's the only maker other than Apple to make a profit in mobile hardware, but it has a bit of an inferiority complex because it doesn't have the software story to compete top to bottom with Apple and Google. But, that doesn't keep Samsung from trying. Samsung's attempts in software often misfire either because of a lack of interest (Tizen) or because Samsung is doing nothing more than doubling up features found in other apps (like the Samsung browser, calendar app, etc.) It's easy to see Bixby squarely in that second category, but that's not quite accurate.

Bixby does duplicate a number of features you are likely to find in the Google Assistant, which will live alongside Bixby on the upcoming Samsung devices (whenever Bixby is actually shipped, that is.) But, I think Samsung has a chance to have something special with Bixby, and if it does, Bixby might die a very quick death. 

That sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually links up to something I went on record saying three years ago that I wanted in a voice assistant -- more local actions. I really hope this is a big focus for Samsung. The company has said that its ultimate aim is to allow you to do anything with your voice that you might normally do using touch input. That aim is potentially a bridge too far, but the intention is great. 

This can start with basic things that we already see to an extent in other voice assistants like turning on or off the WiFi or Bluetooth, but Samsung has already stated features like being able send a message to a friend that includes the photo you're looking at or the website you're visiting. That's a nice next step, but imagine more app specific options, like using voice commands to tell your browser to bookmark a page or save it to Pocket; after taking a picture saying something like "share this on Instagram and apply the Mayfair filter; or, ask your phone to open your to-do app of choice and read your items for the day (meaning you aren't locked in to whatever app works with a specific voice assistant. 

The options are endless. Sure, not everything needs a voice command; sometimes it's easy enough to use touch input for whatever you want to do. But, if done right, this is likely the next big push for all voice assistants and Samsung is getting out of the gate first with Bixby... or at least it's trying to. 

Success could be failure


There needs to be a big caveat with Bixby right off the bat, because Samsung may have jumped the gun on the announcement. Samsung has already said that Bixby will not be fully featured when it launches alongside the Galaxy S8 later this month, but there are also rumors that Bixby might not even be ready at all by then and may end up delayed. To be fair, this is a common tactic from Samsung: announce something way early so even if you can't ship on time, you're on record saying, "We're doing this first." Obviously, this action works best when you can actually ship the product you're promising, but Samsung may already smell the blood in the water for Bixby. 

It seems a bit crazy to assume Apple and Google aren't already working on features for Siri and Google Assistant respectively that will do exactly what Bixby is claiming it will eventually be able to in terms of local device control. So, this well might be a scenario where the best Samsung could do is say, "We announced it first." We don't know a lot about the plans for iOS 11 or Android O, but we'll find out plenty at Google I/O in May and Apple's WWDC in June, so Samsung had to announce Bixby as soon as it could. 

That said, I really do hope Samsung can pull it off and release a quality feature set with Bixby in a relatively short time. I want to see Samsung succeed because it's always more fun with three big competitors rather than just two (or four and three if Amazon's Alexa successfully transitions to smartphones.) And, if Bixby can successfully lead the way, it will push Apple and Google to move faster with their own plans and that may be big trouble for Samsung. 

Unfortunately, whichever way this unfolds -- Bixby never living up to the hype or Bixby being a success -- better full device controls through voice are probably close to "inevitable" on the likelihood spectrum, and because of that I'm not sure if Bixby can survive the competition with Apple and Google. 

Conclusion


Bixby has the opportunity to fundamentally change how we use our smartphones and that's a big deal. We may not have the reasons to fully believe that Samsung can pull it off, but there is hope. Let's not forget that Samsung also now has the talent behind Viv in-house and that team (reportedly) hasn't even begun adding its own work to Bixby's capabilities. Samsung really wants to prove itself on the software side, and it's got the cash to make a good run at it. 

But, regardless of how Bixby turns out, Samsung could get credit for kickstarting the push to add more local actions to voice assistants on smartphones. In the future, it's unclear whether or not you'll ever ask Bixby to open the IdiotsFightingThings subreddit in your favorite reddit app, but you'll undoubtedly be asking Siri or Google Assistant to do something like that. 

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