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article imageSamsung introduces Bixby – Built to stop you using touchscreens

By James Walker     Mar 20, 2017 in Technology
Samsung has officially announced its long-rumoured Bixby AI, a new digital assistant that will make its debut on the company's upcoming Galaxy S8 smartphone. Details are light but Samsung is promising a "deeper experience" than contemporary assistants.
Samsung is promising a "deeper experience" than contemporary assistants.
Bixby will be going head-to-head with the likes of Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa. After acquiring AI start-up Viv Labs – the team behind the original version of Siri – Samsung has embarked on a quest to build its own assistant to distinguish its mobile products.
"Conceptually new"
Unveiling Bixby today, Samsung said its approach is different to that of its rivals. It is working on a "conceptually new philosophy" that aims to make devices more accessible to humans, through the medium of voice interactions. The company noted that interfaces are becoming increasingly complicated, forcing users through a steep learning curve defined by the designer.
Voice input is simpler. Rather than tapping at icons and learning a series of gestures, you can tell your phone to do something using the same language as human communications. Of course, Samsung isn't the first company to have realised this but it claims its implementation will be the first capable of fully replacing traditional interfaces.
Unlike its rivals, Bixby will support "almost every task" that an app can regularly perform. Once a developer adds Bixby to their app, users will be able to use the assistant to open any screen, navigate any menu and submit any form. This avoids one of the major traps when creating an assistant: informing the user of what's actually possible.
Questions remain over how Bixby will achieve this. Samsung hasn't said how much work developers will need to complete for the AI to achieve "completeness." By the company's own admission, the assistant will be limited to "almost" every task. Samsung hasn't said where the line will be drawn.
"Natural and easier"
Samsung is also working to overcome the "cognitive tolerance" barrier of modern assistants. Rather than force users to say commands using a precise syntax, Bixby will be able to interpret incomplete sentences and consider its existing knowledge to determine the meaning.
The assistant will also be fully context-aware, enabling it to remember responses to previous interactions in the scenario. This capability is already offered to varying degrees by Bixby's rivals. Again, Samsung claims Bixby will be able to handle more succinct interactions, but information on the details remains lacking.
"Removing friction"
Samsung said that Bixby is meant to make phones simpler to use, overcoming the limitations of touch interfaces by reverting to a traditional human communication method. The company claimed it will lead to more intuitive smartphone interfaces with a greater focus on the user.
Samsung is far from the first company to pitch digital assistance as the next revolution in mobile devices though. It recognised that convincing users to rely on voice input over a dependable touchscreen is a challenge. In an attempt to make Bixby accessible and visible, the Galaxy S8 will ship with a physical "Bixby button" on the side. Pressing it will open the assistant to voice input mode.
Beyond the Galaxy S8, Samsung has wider ambitions for Bixby. It will use the assistant in a growing range of its future products, from mobile devices and smart TVs to connected home appliances. It will be compatible with third-party services but Samsung hasn't yet announced any major collaborations.
More about Samsung, Bixby, Ai, Artificial intelligence, interfaces
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