Bixby is Samsung's voice agent: an AI, or assistant, or bot, or whatever you want to call it, that the company wants to work alongside touch input on your smartphone and be every bit as seamless as typing already is. It has big aspirations for its virtual assistant, and its debut on the Galaxy S8 is only the start.
Samsung's "intelligent interface" is, at its core, very similar to the prospect promised by Google Assistant or Siri — a virtual assistant that recognises your voice input and responds to commands you give it. While its Apple and Google competitors are great at intepreting fixed phrases and running set commands, though, Samsung's goal for Bixby is — in compatible apps — to do everything touch can do.
In a short demo, Samsung showed off Bixby's integration with its own apps on the Galaxy S8 — "Show me my most recent photo... rotate it to the left... show me this on the TV" and so on. Importantly, because even the simplest app can have a massive permutation of inputs — in the region of a million different contextual options, Samsung says — Bixby integration needs to be baked in by developers rather than working as a layer on top of existing apps.
As well as responding to voice commands for — theoretically — any basic task you want to run on your phone, Bixby can also use the Galaxy S8's camera to read business cards, scan QR codes and recognise landmarks, with an augmented reality mode offering information for sightseeing tourists as well as translating 52 different languages.
Interestingly, it doesn't seem like Bixby can be activated from voice alone. On the Galaxy S8, Bixby can be launched using a dedicated button on the side of the device: a short tap to hit the Bixby home screen with a user's personal data like calendar reminders or step tracking or restaurant recommendations, and a long press to launch Bixby's voice recognition and text-to-speech contextual responses for running commands.
Bixby won't be coming to Australia at launch on the Galaxy S8 though, so don't hold your breath. It needs to be localised for Australian services and to handle the voice input of our particularly distinctive accents. Until it does debut, you'll still be able to use Bixby's home screen as an activity tracker, personal reminder and recommendation service.
But it's the future that looks especially bright for the service. Samsung intends to roll Bixby out onto its other connected gadgets like smart TVs in future months and years.
Less than 24 hours from now, Samsung will reveal the Galaxy S8 to the world at its Unpacked event in New York. We'll be live blogging from the event, but you should also watch along with the live stream — so here's where to find it.
As we hurtle towards the imminent launch of Samsung's not-really-very-secret-any-more Galaxy S8 at full speed, we're already learning more and more about one of the phone's most important features. Bixby, a new voice-controlled assistant that will replicate just about any command you could tap in with your fingers.