Though Bixby is nowhere near perfect, the digital assistant does have a novel use case and some interesting features.

When Bixby first debuted on Samsung’s Galaxy S8 earlier this year, the budding digital assistant was something of a mess.

Without dedicated English voice support and the addition of a barely useful Home screen with Vision services, Bixby seemed at first to be little more than another slice of Samsung bloatware that comes equipped with every new Galaxy smartphone.

Consumers generally didn’t have much reason to believe in the product, and given the months it took Samsung to finally release Bixby’s voice suite, it seems the South Korean company had lost some fervor as well.

However, things changed when Samsung officially launched Bixby Voice in August this year, and finally both consumers and ardent tech enthusiasts were given a full and final glimpse into what Samsung had been cooking up.

I’ll admit it – at first, I wasn’t impressed. Bixby’s heavy reliance on gamification to improve its diction and listening skills was off-putting, and the service felt greatly contrived like S Voice before it – and holding down that irritating Bixby key didn’t help matters.

However, over time I’ve actually come to enjoy using Bixby – and, oddly enough, I find myself summoning the digital assistant far more than I actually rely on Google Assistant.

Context is king

It’s a contrived platitude, but here’s something I don’t do every day – commend Samsung. Apart from releasing two brilliant phones this year – the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 – the company has stepped out of its typically conservative shell to release a product that is both edgy and novel.

There’s nothing really new about Siri, or Google Assistant – both handle voice queries, can toggle one’s smart home on and off, and are good for reminders, email, messaging and other services – even although the latter seems to significantly outperform the former these days.

Out of the box, Bixby was destined to be something different – relying on context to handle interactions within an app. Sure, users may be able to summon Assistant to fire off a WhatsApp; but how many of us can say we use our digital assistant to send our most recent image in our gallery to that one specific contact on the app?

The use of context helps define Bixby, and shatter a barrier of use most digital assistants have – the ability to bridge information from one application to another. While most digital assistants focus on connecting one’s smartphone with another smart device (say, one’s Pixel to one’s thermostat) Bixby is capable of performing complicated actions by voice.

That’s a really meaningful pursuit, and especially so for hands-free use – imagine a future where we can instruct our phone to attach images to an email and fire off a list of instructions to a colleague while driving. One could almost be forgiven for thinking that this is something more closely tied with Apple’s walled garden, yet Samsung has somehow made it work with the vast and wild woodland that is Android.

There’s a button

Yes, iPhone users have been long-pressing their Home buttons for years, and now the Pixel 2 accommodates a squeeze to activate feature. But perhaps Samsung actually has it right with a Bixby key that does nothing else besides summon Bixby Home or Bixby Voice – the nature of the button gives consumers an assurance that their phone is designed with the feature in mind, rather than it being a simple afterthought.

I all-too-often summon Google Assistant by long-pressing Android’s Home key, and I hate the fact that pressing in Apple’s Home button to unlock an iDevice can sometimes trigger Siri. Yet with Bixby, I have the knowledge that there’s a specified key for the job, and I can hold it down for as long as I feel like speaking.

“While most digital assistants focus on connecting one’s smartphone with another smart device, Bixby is capable of performing complicated actions by voice.”

Placing a button on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 was a ballsy move, but it’s one that gives consumers some confidence that Bixby isn’t just a flash-in-the-pan – it speaks to a future where the assistant is slightly more evolved and can handle even more complex instructions.

It comes in three flavours

Here’s a thing: Google Assistant (disregarding Now) and Siri are more or less voice interaction panes. Other functionality in either Android or iOS is typically salad dressing with a branded name here or there to make the service look more expansive – my favourite being Siri’s “Suggestions” in iOS.

Bixby, however, comes with three very interesting utilities. There is, of course, the Voice service – but both Home and Vision have expanded gracefully since their jumpy start.

Home may just be a revised quick briefing for some, though I’ve actually come to rely on the feature for a quick, heads-up update as to what’s going on in the world around me – either on my social networks, on my device itself, or in the news.

“Out of the box, Bixby was destined to be something different.”

Secondly, there’s Vision – a system Assistant doesn’t comprise beyond the optional extra that is Google Goggles, and a domain Siri has yet to explore. Perhaps more limited to consumers in the US where one can order whatever fanciful object they choose, Vision enables users to quickly analyze points of interest or retail items – a display of artificial intelligence that some providers (besides Amazon) are now lacking in.

A hope for the future

In the coming months, it’s only likely that Bixby will get better – and that’s because Samsung has been forced to admit the service was less than desirable at the start. With a focus on gamification and input from thousands of users, Bixby should only improve – and given the assistant’s very unique set of capabilities, I can’t wait to get the best out of the service.

Have your say!

What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy using Bixby in your day-to-day, or do you tend to ignore it? Be sure to let me know your opinion in the comments below!

Follow me on Twitter: @bryansmithSA

Piece from Web Native.