Samsung today announced a second-generation version of its digital voice assistant Bixby: dubbed Bixby 2.0, it’s geared toward smart home devices. The news, announced at the company’s developer conference in San Francisco, means that Samsung wants to position Bixby as even more of a competitor to Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, both of which are racing to lock consumers into their own respective hardware and software ecosystems. Samsung says the new Bixby will also be more capable at processing natural language and predicting user needs, regardless of which device it’s running on.
The new version of Bixby will “act as the control hub of your device ecosystem,” Samsung says, which includes phones, TVs, refrigerators, speakers, and the myriad other devices now being connected to the internet. Samsung says Bixby 2.0, like Alexa and Google Assistant, will also be open to developers to build and plug in existing apps and services. Starting today, Samsung’s new Bixby software development kit will be open to developers in beta. The company is also launching Bixby on Samsung TVs starting in the US and Korea.
Samsung first revealed Bixby back with the Galaxy S8 in March, but it took quite a few months to make its way from Korea to US Galaxy owners. Samsung has added support for more than 200 languages and more Android devices. But the software has often by hobbled by its confusing implementation — there are three different versions called Voice, Home, and Vision — and its overall ineffectiveness when compared with offerings from Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Samsung was even forced to disable the dedicated Bixby button on its recent Galaxy devices because users were so frustrated by accidentally triggering it. (The company still won’t let you remap it to something else, like Google Assistant.)
It’s unclear how Bixby 2.0 will make the experience that much better, but there is the possibility that Samsung’s assistant could improve over time and be made more powerful by third-party developer support. Unfortunately, until that happens, users are stuck with, as my colleague Vlad Savov said in September, “structural bloatware,” with features that don’t work well on a service not many people really want, at least not from Samsung.