Bixby is a reason not to choose a Samsung device
While all eyes will be on the Galaxy Note 9 at Samsung’s next launch event, Bixby 2.0 is likely to debut in a smart speaker which may actually damage its sales potential.
Bixby is Samsung’s attempt to compete against Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa and so far, it has been nothing short of a disaster. This is because compared to Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and even the much-maligned Siri, Bixby is hopelessly outclassed. Bixby voice only shines in the areas where Samsung has given it special access to hardware that competitors do not have. Outside of this area, Bixby is a third-rate experience that is unlikely to generate much traction especially as the vastly superior Google Assistant is just a button press away.
This contrast is so stark, that Samsung has had to resort to hobbling Google Assistant in certain areas (hot word) just to give Bixby a chance. This is likely to encourage users to try Bixby once or twice but when they realise how bad it is, they will go back to Google Assistant. In fact, the user experience is so bad that Bixby is more of an annoyance to Samsung users and is rapidly becoming a reason not to buy a Samsung device.
Not to be deterred by the universally negative feedback on the product, Samsung is investing more money, hiring more engineers and opening more research centres that have so far delivered less than zero. Furthermore, Samsung plans to put its AI into every consumer electronics product that it makes, which could do real damage in categories where Samsung does not have the same dominance that it does in handsets. For example, in a toss-up between and Sony TV running Google Assistant and a Samsung TV running Bixby (assuming all other things being equal), it is pretty clear which one to choose. The same goes for fridges, washing machines etc.
Bixby 2.0 is unlikely to be much better and given that its competitors are generating far more data and improving much more quickly, Bixby has no chance of ever being a viable digital assistant. The one exception is in Korea where Korean speakers tell me that Bixby is pretty good. As a total percentage of Samsung’s shipments, Korea is a rounding error meaning that investments to make Bixby work well in the Korean language offer a very poor return. However, what it does do is make Korean speaking engineers feel proud of their achievement which, unfortunately, does nothing for shareholders. The net result is likely to be a smart speaker that is anything but smart, that no one in their right mind would choose over a speaker carrying Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
Therefore, unless there is a radical improvement resulting in an assistant that is unrecognisable from its forebear, Bixby will continue to have negative brand value for Samsung. This is something that Samsung really can’t afford with a resurgent Huawei and newly listed Xiaomi which badly needs to make good on its promises to investors.
In the long-run Samsung should abandon its aspirations to create AI and do a deal with Google with whom it has no chance of competing outside of hardware. Google also has big problems with its hardware and using Samsung would see its innovations spread much more quickly through the market rather than have them remain in the hands of the tiny minority that have a Pixel device.
For example, Google’s superb portrait mode could have been used to differentiate the imaging in the Galaxy s9 rather than the completely pointless variable aperture. A much deeper integration of Google Assistant into Samsung devices rather than the universally awful Bixby would further set Samsung apart from the competition. Obviously, Samsung would only be able to get an exclusive on these technologies and features for maybe a quarter or two, but it would make its products far more attractive when compared to the iPhone.
This is how Google and Samsung should work together but while they both continue to invest in their (forlorn) dreams, Apple can rest more comfortably.