Samsung: Soft Launch for Bixby Voice Interface

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Close to two months after launching the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus line of smartphones, Samsung Electronics (SSNLF) is finally rolling out Bixby, its voice-activated personal assistant, in the U.S.

Late last week, the South Korean consumer electronics company announced the launch. But there’s a catch: it’s a preview of the technology, and it’s only available to select Galaxy S8 smartphone users in the U.S. Customers are being invited to sign up for an early preview with the company declining to say when a full rollout will happen in the U.S.

“We see Bixby as an intelligent interface for your phone—an integral part of our connected ecosystem,” said Injong Rhee, CTO and head of R&D, software and services, Samsung Mobile in a release announcing the preview. “From phones, to televisions, to refrigerators, we think that Bixby will provide users with a simpler, more intuitive way to control their favorite devices, and live a more connected life.” (See also: Is Samsung Next to Launch Voice-Activated Speaker?)

Elbowing Alexa and Siri

In March, the consumer electronics giant announced it was rolling out a voice-activated personal assistant for its Galaxy 8 line of smartphones aimed at competing with Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) Siri and, to a lesser extent, Amazon’.com Inc.s (AMZN) Alexa, which is found in a smart speaker and Alphabet Inc.’s (GOOG) Google Home device.

Samsung is hoping Bixby will set it apart from its competitors because, instead of being able to answer a database of questions and respond to predetermined commands, it is designed to help customers use Samsung devices and more easily complete tasks. “Technology is supposed to make life easier, but as the capabilities of machines such as smartphones, PCs, home appliances and IoT devices become more diverse, the interfaces on these devices are becoming too complicated for users to take advantage of many of these functions conveniently,” wrote Rhee in a blog post announcing Bixby.

Slow Learner?

As a result, Samsung said it had a new way to solve the problem: by having the machine learn and adapt to the user instead of vice versa. Current Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus customers can use some of the personal assistant’s features in the U.S., including reminders, Bixby Home and Bixby Vision augmented reality. (See also, Is Samsung’s Bixby Ready to Take on Siri & Co.?)

While consumers were excited about a built-in personal assistant coming with the S8 line of smartphones, fans in the U.S. were quickly disappointed when the company announced it would be delayed. When announcing in April it was delaying the launch of the technology until later in the spring, it cited the need for software to get the voice-activation portion of the assistant to work. Since then reports have surfaced that the company was having trouble translating English commands, which is why it’s been delayed.

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