Can Bixby take the heat off Samsung?

In its ongoing quest to win back favour in the eyes of the safety-conscious consumer, Samsung has released a new virtual assistant known as Bixby.

The last twelve months has seen Samsung go through the full range of emotions. At the beginning of the year, it was leading the way in the smartphone market, with the new Note7 poised to set the market ablaze. Unfortunately it would seem to have taken the phrase too literally. The damage to brand credibility was exceptional and now it would appear the team is turning to the virtual assistant and artificial intelligence buzz to rebound.

“We know that adopting new ways to interact with your devices will require a change in user behaviour,” the company said on its blog. “The inconvenience of learning a new interface can cause friction and force users to revert back to old habits (e.g. the touch interface).

“At the same time we believe the key to success for a new voice interface is to design a scheme that reduces friction and makes the experience significantly more rewarding than the existing interface. So at its core, Bixby will help remove friction. It will simplify user education with new voice interfaces and will make using your phone even more seamless and intuitive.”

The move is certainly a sensible one, differentiating on hardware is now almost impossible and considering the fire-damage to its reputation, it can’t lean on the loyal army of supporters like Apple’s iLifers. The main issue here is that it’s not really offering anything new or revolutionary.

The team has made claims in three areas to demonstrate the value of Bixby. Firstly, ‘Completeness’.

When an application becomes Bixby-enabled, Bixby will be able to support almost every task that the application is capable of performing, the team claims. This is an excellent thing to say, but how much leverage Samsung has over the developers to ensure an application is completely ‘Bixby-enabled’ remains to be seen.

Samsung maybe a multi-national organization, with a significant market share, but your correspondent remains sceptical whether it has the level of influence over developers as say Android owners, Google.

Secondly, contextual awareness.

“When using a Bixby-enabled application, users will be able to call upon Bixby at any time and it will understand the current context and state of the application and will allow users to carry out the current work-in-progress continuously,” the team states in the aforementioned blog.

There seem to be two issues here. Firstly, we’re back to talking about Bixby-enabled applications, therefore completely dependent on the aforementioned point. Secondly, this is not new. Contextual awareness, and various applications working in conjunction, and in harmony is hardly a new feature. Some may in fact argue its common sense. Other virtual assistants may have had issues in the past, but you can guarantee the developers will be feverishly working away in the background to fix the problems.

Finally, cognitive tolerance.

This is more of an interesting one, as there is the potential to be a genuine USP here. For certain functions with Alexa, you have to dictate specific comments to complete the task. Samsung are claiming Bixby will use various AI technologies, possibly natural language processing, to understand commands with incomplete information.

This would certainly be a useful selling point for the virtual assistant, however the team need to make sure it works properly. Interpretation and guess work from Bixby could lead to numerous incorrect actions, frustration and abandonment from the consumer.

Perhaps one of the reasons Amazon has stormed forward in this area is that the technology hasn’t been perfected and it is worried about delivering a bad experience? It’s a fair worry to have as too many bad experiences could kill the Alexa ambitions in a segment which could be a goldmine for those involved.

The Bixby proposition could offer two things to the Samsung team; a means to repair a damaged reputation and a gateway membership card to the digital economy. If controlling access to customer data is the best means to generate revenues in the connected era, Bixby could be a very useful tool for a business needing to fill a $5.3 billion sized, Note7 shaped hole.

None of the features are particularly new or revolutionary ideas to the segment, but that doesn’t really matter here. All Samsung has to do is do everything better than its competitors. Simple ey?

It’s a move which could make Samsung billions, but one has to question whether it has the software capabilities in-house. Samsung hasn’t grabbed the artificial intelligence headlines in the same way Google or Apple or AWS; Bixby will soon answer the question as to whether Samsung can compete in the AI world.

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