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Richard Windsor
8 August 2017

Samsung Bixby - Lightweight

Bixby is hopelessly outclassed

The voice piece of the Bixby digital assistant has finally launched but despite months of feverish activity trying to teach Bixby to speak English, it is still not very good at it. Bixby has been granted exclusive hardware access such that it can work when the screen is off or the device is locked. This is something that Google Assistant cannot do but it also comes with the reality that Bixby is always listening. This will make some users very uncomfortable as a microphone in one’s pocket is far more intrusive than a microphone listening in the kitchen.

Voice recognition works best when there is an element of training involved as users often say things in very different ways. Unfortunately, it appears that for some users, Bixby is unable to recognise the training sentences implying that this part of the system still needs work. In effect Samsung has programmed Bixby with a series of standard functions that can be used to operate the smartphone as well as basic functions in the apps. Outside of that area, the user is pretty much out of luck. Unfortunately, these only really work for Samsung apps which outside of the messaging app for SMS, I think no one really uses.

For navigation and search, Bixby uses Google but without some of the bells and whistles that make Google so good and for these functions, it makes no sense to use Bixby when one can go straight to Google. Bixby does support third party apps through the “Bixby Labs” program but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work properly and while it can open things like Google Maps, YouTube it does not seem to be able to get past the main screen of those apps.

The problem with Bixby is simply that its creator, Samsung, has no artificial intelligence expertise to speak of and digital assistants are only about AI. Google Assistant is the best not because Google knows how to make an assistant but because the AI that runs it is the best in the world. This contrast is so stark, that Samsung has had to resort to hobbling Google Assistant in certain areas just to give Bixby a chance. I think that this will encourage users to try Bixby once or twice but when they realise how poor it is, they will go back to Google Assistant.

Google will not be losing any sleep over Bixby even though it could end up on a very high percentage of Google ecosystem devices. Samsung is now the No. 1 semiconductor manufacturer in the world, but I still rank it almost dead last when it comes to AI. Its investments in this space would be better accruing to shareholders via higher profits rather than being invested in functions that are likely to damage Samsung’s reputation rather than improve it. Samsung’s recent rally has removed the valuation argument for Samsung which leaves us preferring Tencent, Baidu and Microsoft.

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