Samsung

Samsung making smart speaker despite Bixby troubles


Samsung is reportedly working on a Bixby-powered speaker that will compete with the likes of the already available Amazon Echo and Google Home as well as the forthcoming Apple HomePod. But maybe it should focus on getting full Bixby features to its Galaxy S8 phones first.

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That's proving to be a huge challenge for Samsung, as the S8 shipped without Bixby Voice controls that let you operate the phone's features without typing or tapping. And it sounds as if the company has hit another roadblock on the road to delivering full Bixby compatibility in the U.S.

The Korea Herald reports that Bixby Voice has been delayed — again — and that the culprit continues to be getting the feature to work smoothly in English. (Bixby Voice controls are already available in Samsung's home market of South Korea.) Previous reports suggested that Samsung was having trouble teach Bixby English syntax and grammar. The Korea Herald attributes the latest delay to Samsung's lack of big data accumulation needed to assist deep learning. The paper also sites geographical and language barriers between Samsung's Korean headquarters and U.S. researchers.

Bixby Voice may not reach phones in the U.S until the fall, according to the report. Some Bixby features are already in place, including Bixby Vision, which can identify objects you point the S8's camera at, and voice-activated payments. And Galaxy S8 owners can participate in a trial of Bixby Voice. Still, full voice control over the S8 was one of the key features for the Bixby personal assistant that Samsung touted when it previewed its new phone this past spring.

Reports of this latest delay come as the Wall Street Journal says that a Bixby-powered speaker is in the works. Timing for the speaker's release is up in the air — see the earlier issues with getting Bixby voice controls to work in the U.S. — but that the product, code-named Vega, would compete against rival smart speakers that let you control other smart devices in the home.

And that's really where the biggest impact of delayed Bixby Voice features will be felt. For Galaxy S8 owners, it's not much of an issue. That phone already has a voice-powered assistant in the form of Google Assistant, and people are more likely to buy the S8 because they're taken with its expanded Infinity Display or top-performing rear-camera. Missing Bixby features aren't likely to dampen interest in the phone, even if it means an essentially powerless dedicated Bixby button on the S8's side.

But Samsung has big plans for Bixby. In addition to bringing the digital assistant to other phones, the company reportedly wants to expand it to other products — not just a smart speaker, but its home appliances as well. And the longer Bixby voice gets delayed, the more ground Samsung will have to close with rival assistants, chiefly Amazon's Alexa.