Voice assistants play a significant part in everyday life. Whether it’s asking for directions, timing a meal, or setting an alarm, so you get up in the first place—Alexa, Google, or Siri, are probably involved in the process. Unsurprisingly Samsung wanted a slice of the pie, but is it wasting its time?
The Korean company’s effort, Bixby, was discussed at length during the company’s 2017 conference. It debuted on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ and looked like it could find a place amongst the established voice assistants of the time.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way, and Bixby instead ended up about as popular as Microsoft’s Cortana. So, where did it go wrong exactly? And should Samsung even keep trying? Let’s have a look.
Although they’re on the same “side,” Bixby is competing with Google Assistant for space in our everyday lives—and that’s a fight Samsung was always unlikely to win. Google Assistant is one of the most functional, fleshed-out voice assistants available—as it was in 2017 when Bixby launched with the Samsung Galaxy S8.
By the time Bixby launched, Google Assistant had been around for a year Assistant and worked seamlessly on many devices and across several brands. You could use it with your phone, Chromebook, Smart TV, wearables, and a variety of Smarthome devices. Bixby eventually offered this increased functionality but focused on Samsung products, severely limiting its user base.
Google Assistant is also automatically included on any phone running Android 6.0 or later. Hence, users of Samsung devices have it right out of the box with no extra steps beyond setting it as the default.
You could argue Bixby was trying to come across as having more personality than Google Assistant. Google Assistant lacks a human name, which immediately makes the whole thing seem colder and less friendly than a Siri or an Alexa. On the face of it, Bixby’s name has tons of “personality,” sounding like a kind of quirky, twisted butler you’d go with on adventures. But on the other hand—it could also sound far sillier when you’re barking out commands in the presence of other people. “Siri” and “Alexa” aren’t as outlandish, and “okay, Google” just feels a bit more professional.
Perhaps a more significant issue was Bixby’s struggles with non-standard accents. First impressions are everything, and if your quirky new voice assistant has one of its most valuable features disabled when you initially give it a chance—why wouldn’t you just switch back to Google Assistant and forget Bixby ever existed?
It started as inferior to its direct competitor and arguably never closed the ground between the two. And for argument’s sake, say it was currently every bit as functional as Google Assistant was, why would you switch?
Samsung saw Bixby as important—so important it had a dedicated button on the side of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, the companies flagship devices at the time. The Bixby button could have been used to access the camera, or take a screenshot, or launch a user’s favorite app, or any of the other million things people were more likely to use than Bixby.
Thanks to the Bixby Button’s placement, users could accidentally trigger the assistant. This made it challenging to ignore Bixby, who could magically pop up any time you picked up your device the wrong way or even grazed the side of it.
In the end, people were either remapping the Bixby button, so it did launch something useful—or just disabling the button and having it sit there inert. If you google “Bixby,” you’ll see just as many articles about disabling or removing it as guides on using its features, which isn’t a good sign. Samsung also got the hint—the Galaxy S10 allowed users to remap the button with that functionality rolling back through the S9 and S8 series of devices. The button disappeared entirely from the Note 10 onwards.
Like Google Assistant, Bixby has fixed a lot of faults and developed in the time since. However, second chances are never guaranteed, and most people who tried the assistant out initially might feel like firing it up again is a waste of their time. Worse still is reputation. If you mention Bixby to people, negative connotations may follow as a result of its initial reception. You don’t want to be the kid whose parents bought him Go-Bots for Christmas. You don’t want to be the one in your friend group with the K-Mart voice assistant.
Bixby still receives regular updates, and Samsung still seems to be trying to crowbar its creation into people’s lives. All that effort seems like a waste of resources, especially since there are areas where Samsung could excel and would be better off putting its focus.
Samsung is already a respected leader in the smart home sector. Its SmartThings app aims to streamline your smart home. Along with Google and Apple, Samsung will also be jumping on board with Project Matter next year, which means it will be on board with the new industry standard.
The smart home market is expected to grow by more than 15% year on year. In addition to being a rapidly expanding market, SmartThings should work seamlessly with most smart home devices once it implements Project Matter. With Project Matter support, rather than something that purely works on Samsung devices—Samsung will have an app that can compete with the rest of the market.
There is, however, one snag. Samsung integrated Bixby into SmartThings. With the two services integrally linked, people may be put off and driven to one of the many other smart home apps available. If you need to put up with Bixby to use an app, you may swerve it. If you need a device that runs Bixby to get the most out of your smart home, that’s a significant issue.
So, the bottom line is: in addition to the reallocation of some resources, SmartThings could drop the Bixby taint and become an all-in-one place to manage Project Matter devices.