Monday, April 3, 2017

The Bixby Button

It is time once again for me to fret and strut my hour upon the Blog-o-sphere.  The obvious targets for my sound and fury are all of the April Fool's jokes that bounced around the interwebs on Saturday, but no; those are asking for the abuse and so I will pass them by.

Of course, my favorite was Google Gnome.

Instead, I'll focus my ire on something else: the Galaxy S8 announcement, specifically Bixby.  As a brief disclaimer, I worked for Samsung for over nine years, but I'll try not to let any sentiment, good or bad, color my judgement.

Wait.  Not that Bixby.

A Kinder, Gentler Bixby

For those of you who do not follow smartphone press releases (what do you do with your lives?), Bixby is Samsung's voice assistant offering, but there is more.  It is also a info-card system on screen (Bixby Home) and an image recognition system through the phone's camera (Bixby Vision).  Each is designed to add context and suggestions to the actions people take with their Galaxy S8 phone.

What separates it from the other voice assistants already in market (and also on the Android driven S8) are a few things:

  1. It can work with supported third party apps and potentially do anything that the user can do with their hands.  While there aren't many such apps yet, that may change over time depending on how aggressive Samsung goes after developers.
  2. It can do image recognition.  If you see an object that you like, a pair of shoes or a car or whatever, then point the S8 camera at it and it will bring up information about that object.
  3. It can interface with Samsung's going line of smart things, including SmartThings.  This is maybe the biggest differentiater as Samsung makes many of the things that we all want to be smart.  They can directly influence products as they go to market instead of trying to buy their way into someone else's refrigerator or TV line.

That Being Said...

There are a few things that are less good about Bixby versus some of the other voice assistants on the market.

First, there is a button.  For me, one of the biggest advantages of Alexa or Google Home is that they are completely hands free.  I can be washing the dishes and get the lights turned on or off, skip a music track or get the weather.  In all fairness, the same can be said of Siri, Cortana and the in-phone version of the Google Assistant.  But for a smart home, it make is less useful.

Next, it is only on the Galaxy S8 and S8+.  While the Galaxy line of phones are popular, this is still a flagship product that will take time to trickle down to the masses.  Admittedly, smart home owners and users are closer to the 1% (called mass premium consumers in marketing parlance), but the Venn diagram of smart home owners and Galaxy early adopters strikes me as small right now.

Finally (at least for the purposes of this article), this is not Samsung's first foray into the world of voice assistants.  They launched S-Voice in 2012 in response to Siri.  It did not go well.  Much of this was due to a lack of developer support and buggy performance.  Things that do not bode well for Bixby.

There is Room

I hope that Bixby does well.  Not only for all of my former colleagues at Samsung and their job security, but also because it increases the competition in this area.  I would hate for the consumer innovation world to give up on this thinking that Amazon, Apple and Google have won.  Remember, In the early 2000's, we were a Yahoo! world and no one thought we needed Google.  There is still room for someone to reinvent the voice assistant market.

That's my sound and fury for this week.

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