On the new Galaxy S8, Samsung debuted a brand-new intelligent assistant, called Bixby. It’s the same kind of smart AI that we’ve all come to know and love, but it lives in unholy harmony with Google Assistant. Samsung’s said that Bixby is supposed to help you use your phone’s features, rather than be a catch-all digital AI. At least, that’s Samsung’s excuse for having both Bixby and Google Assistant loaded on the Galaxy S8.
But Samsung has given Bixby a major leg up over Google Assistant, by dedicating a hardware button the side of the phone to launching Bixby. Samsung has gone out of its way to make sure you can’t remap that button to anything else, which seems like the kind of anti-consumer, locked-down move you’d expect from Apple.
But here’s the thing: statistically, people don’t care about what digital assistant they have on a phone. A statistically-significant survey from Fluent says that three-quarters of smartphone users don’t care which digital assistant they have on their phone, or if they have one at all. For most people, a digital assistant is just a way to get the weather or set an alarm: the average user don’t come close to using the full capabilities of different assistants, so they can’t really differentiate between them.
Given Samsung’s outsized R&D budget, you have to assume that Samsung knows that people don’t have an affinity for Google Assistant over Bixby in the same way that they would for, say, WhatsApp over Samsung’s own messaging app. People just don’t care that you can’t remap the Bixby button to Google Assistant, because they wouldn’t have bothered to do that even if they could.
But while consumers might not care which digital AI they use, Samsung sure does. Google’s entire Android business model is built around collecting data and using it to target ads and products; nothing does that better than a digital AI that gets to know you. Samsung has long had ambitions to do more than just make phones. It’s been working on its own mobile OS for years, and a digital assistant is just the next place Samsung will try and do war with Google.