Samsung Opens Bixby Voice Early Access Program

Samsung Bixby Voice Early Access Program

Samsung has a new sign-up page for a Bixby Voice early access program. The company is not saying how broadly they will make the program available, only that “participation is limited.” Bixby is Samsung’s native voice assistant that competes with Google Assistant on its Android smartphones.

Bixby was supposed to launch with the Galaxy S8 in April but was delayed. At the time, Samsung issued a notice that it would be available to users “later this spring.” Well, spring officially comes to an end in two days so they are making it available in the forecasted time frame, but not generally available. The solution is apparently good enough for beta trials at a small scale but not a broad release.

Bixby Activity Continues with Appliances and Smart Speaker

Samsung appears fully committed to Bixby despite the roll-out problems. Since the Galaxy S8 launch, reports have surfaced that Samsung Family Hub 2.0 refrigerators will get a Bixby upgrade this year and that a Bixby-enabled smart speaker is in development. Samsung is not content to cede voice assistant dominance to Google the way it did with the Android operating system. The voice assistant domain is even more important for Samsung than mobile OS because it goes beyond the smartphone to include appliances and televisions. Samsung wants the option to chart its own course for consumer interactions that have both depth and frequency.

Will Bixby Be Hands Free? Apparently Not.

A key user interface benefit of voice assistants is not just voice input, but also hands free interaction. Amazon Echo famously launched with only one way to interact with the Alexa voice assistant: by speaking. At the time, both Siri and Google Now required users to touch a button to activate the voice interface, although “Hey Siri,” soon followed with hands free operation. Like Alexa, Bixby appears to have only one way to activate it. However, that is by pressing a button. The Bixby Voice early action program sign up page states:

Bixby is built into the Galaxy S8 and S8+, so you can send texts, change your settings or make a call by simply holding down the Bixby button and speaking [emphasis added].

This means no hands free operation for Bixby, at least for the launch. That will make it inferior in terms of user convenience compared to Google Assistant which is already available in hands free operation on the Galaxy S8. The reason for this approach is likely that the “wake word” technology is not ready. Many people marvel at the natural language processing capabilities of voice assistants, but few realize that “wake word recognition” is different and also complex.

Samsung may be able to get away with a button activated voice assistant for some smartphone users for a period of time. However, consumers will demand hands free operation with voice activation for the forthcoming smart speaker and likely for the smartphone as well. Amazon and Google have already set consumer expectations and they will continue raising the bar.

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