How Samsung plans to blow Siri out of the water

How Samsung plans to blow Siri out of the water


Samsung's new assistant is powered by Viv.
Photo: Viv

S Voice, Samsung’s answer to Siri, has been a poor excuse for a virtual assistant for the last four years. But the South Korean company is working on a brand new version for the Galaxy S8 — and it will have features that blow its competitors out of the water.

Samsung’s new assistant is dubbed Bixby, and it’s more than just a fancy question-answering service. It uses technology developed by Viv, an American startup that was acquired by Samsung last October.

Here are some of the reasons why Bixby could become the best AI yet.

Bixby was built by AI experts

Viv wasn’t just an AI assistant that came out of nowhere. It was started by the creators of Siri back in 2012, two years after Apple acquired the team’s original creation for more than $200 million. It’s more open than Siri, and has the ability to handle more complex queries.

“The more you ask of Viv, the more it will get to know you,” explained co-creator Doug Kittlaus during a demo early last year. “Siri was chapter one, and now it’s almost like a new internet age is coming. Viv will be a giant brain in the sky.”

One of the requests Viv was able to carry out back then was, “find me a flight to Dallas with a seat that Shaq could fit in.” This isn’t a request Siri could handle today, though the service has gotten more intelligent in recent years — particuarly with the improvements in iOS 10.

Control over apps

Siri now has the ability to interact with iOS apps to fetch information and carry out tasks, but Bixby will take this to a new level. According to the ever-reliable SamMobile, it will have the ability to control all native applications installed on the Galaxy S8.

For instance, you might be able to use Bixby to find photos in the Gallery app from that vacation you took four years ago. Or to start and end workout-tracking in S Health.

And because Samsung doesn’t restrict third-party developers like Apple does, Bixby will almost certainly have greater control over third-party apps, too.

Visual search and text recognition

Perhaps the biggest advantage over Siri and other competitors will be Bixby’s visual search and text recognition feature. Similar to Google Goggles (remember that?), Bixby will have the ability to identify objects and read text via the Galaxy S8’s Camera app.

“The standard camera app on the Galaxy S8 will feature its own Bixby button, giving access to a search tool that processes whatever the user is pointing the camera at,” SamMobile explains.

“Bixby will analyze the image, and identify objects and text. It will help you search for that object, or use optical character recognition to process any text you point the phone at.”

While you’re out shopping, for example, you might be able to use Bixby to identify a product, find the same online at a cheaper price, and then purchase it without leaving the Bixby interface. Or you could use it to turn handwritten text into digital notes.

Sending cash

Another feature, according to SamMobile’s sources, will be the ability to send payments using your voice. The service is thought to be labeled Bixby Pay, so it will be separate to Samsung Pay.

It’s unclear whether the service will be restricted to sending payments between Bixby Pay users with a Galaxy S8, or whether you will also be able to use third-party services like PayPal and Venmo. PayPal already works with Siri for sending and receiving money by voice.

Bixby to land this spring

As I mentioned earlier, Bixby is expected to make its debut with the Galaxy S8. Recent rumors have suggested Samsung will announce the device at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next month, however, we’ll probably have to wait until March or April to buy the device.

It’s thought Bixby will be such an important selling point for the Galaxy S8 that it will have a dedicated physical button on its side for launching the virtual assistant. We’ll find out more in the coming weeks.