Samsung debuts its long-awaited Bixby voice assistant

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The launch of the Galaxy S8 next week will mark much more than just a hardware refresh for Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.’s flagship smartphone series.

Today, the mobile giant confirmed that the handset is set to ship with a homegrown artificial intelligence called Bixby, which has been the subject of intense speculation since company executives revealed their plans to launch a voice assistant last year. The bot’s main strength is its ability to adapt for different use scenarios. According to Samsung, the software is so versatile that it can almost completely substitute the touch interface for supported apps rather than merely taking care of a few key tasks as Google Inc.’s Assistant and Apple Inc.’s Siri do.

Bixby takes advantage of this integration to gain a thorough understanding of how users interact with their devices. In its announcement, Samsung specifies the agent will keep tabs on the “current context and state” of applications to let Galaxy S8 owners “carry out the current work-in-progress continuously,” which seems to describe a form of multitasking. One possibility is that Bixby’s contextual awareness will make it possible switch between applications without having to provide explicit instructions for doing so.

Such a capability would mesh well with Samsung’s other top priority with the AI: sparing users the hassle of following a specific pattern when issuing commands. The company indicated that Bixby provides a reasonable amount of wiggle room when it comes to how orders are worded and can even work with partial information. In case a user’s instructions are not sufficient to carry out a task, the AI will simply ask them for additional input.

The final selling point of Bixby is that it will provide the ability to alternate seamlessly between using voice commands and touch gestures to interact with an app. Most mainstream assistants require users to start the task all over again in such scenarios, a major disadvantage that Samsung’s rivals can be expected to fix following today’s announcement.

They should have some time to work with since the company said that the Galaxy S8 will feature only a handful of Bixby-enabled applications on launch. On the same occasion, Samsung revealed that the device will have a dedicated button for launching the AI. The mobile giant plans to make Bixby available on other smartphones as well further down the road and eventually even integrate it into its various home appliances.

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