Samsung has announced that Bixby Voice will officially be available in over 200 countries worldwide, with the rollout beginning today.
It’s going to provide a pretty big update to your handset (and is largely being done to coincide with the Galaxy Note 8 launch on 23 August), so we’ve put together a compact little guide to help you understand what’s happening, how to use the service and the slight speedbumps you can expect along the way.
What is Bixby Voice?
Bixby Voice is, as you can probably guess, the voice command element of Samsung’s Bixby digital assistant.
Curiously the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus both launched with a Bixby hardware button on the side of the phone, but that only activated Bixby Home, a portal with information on upcoming calendar events, health updates and news.
Bixby Voice allows you to interact with the phone either by holding that hardware button or saying ‘Hi Bixby’ and being able to intelligently understand what you’re after.
Injong Rhee, Executive VP and Head of R&D, Software and Services at Samsung, told TechRadar: “When we announced Bixby we [supported] 10 applications initially and we got a lot of feedback saying that that’s not enough for people to use.”
So the brand has been working to improve the amount of apps that Bixby Voice can work with – and the fruits of that labor are now available worldwide.
How do I download Bixby Voice?
The update – which is already available in the US and South Korea – should already be on your phone. If it’s not, press the Bixby button on the side of the phone to trigger the update – it may not be instant but should become available throughout the day.
What can Bixby Voice do?
The idea behind Bixby from Samsung isn’t just a voice assistant – it’s a more holistic sidekick throughout the phone that can understand you contextually.
The idea is that you can move from voice to touch to camera seamlessly, with the phone understanding what you want with each interaction.
“If you watch the movie Iron Man, Tony Stark is sitting there interacting with Jarvis, the agent or the assistant, and he uses all the means available to him,” Rhee explained to us, using the movie to highlight the goal Samsung has with Bixby.
“He uses the keyboard and he talks to him, he uses his hands, spinning, and whatever he feels comfortable using at that point and in that context and the object he’s actually manipulating.”
Bixby Voice will listen to what you’re trying to do and work out the apps that are needed to do it. So you’ll be able to say ‘Take a selfie’ and it’ll open the camera, flip to the front-facing sensor and snap for you, without any touching.
Then you could say ‘Post this photo to Facebook’ or ‘Send that photo to my Mom’ and Bixby will know what you mean by that and do it all in one go.
You can also set ‘recipes’ for Bixby, where saying commands will enable a bundle of actions. Saying ‘I’m cooking’ could open your favorite recipe site, play some music and turn the screen brightness right up so you can see the phone more easily.
We saw literally hundreds – if not thousands – of commands Bixby can recognize, and the idea is that it can interpret them in different ways depending on where in the phone you are at that point.
However, it’s not total. Weirdly Bixby can’t do as many things outside of the phone ecosystem, so you’ll still need to use Google Assistant (which is also on the Galaxy S8) to ask things like ‘Who’s the actual president of the US?’
Samsung says that functionality is coming, but it’s not there yet.
What languages does it come in?
This is where things get a little trickier to explain. Bixby Voice will be available in US English and Korean, which it already is now, but around the world.
That’s obviously going to lead to some issues, especially around regional dialects where the way different cultures say a word is going to have an impact.
This means that unless you’re in the United States of America or South Korea, there’s a good chance something might not translate well.
That said, in the demonstrations of Bixby we’ve had, we’ve seen people with American and Scottish accents be understood instantly by the voice recognition, and even when it’s not quite got the words right the phone has worked out what was being asked.
Bixby is designed to learn your voice as well, so every time a regional dialect is used the phone is learning and pushing that information back into its wider database in the cloud, so the results should improve over time.
What’s the future for Bixby Voice?
In the future, Samsung sees Bixby as a rival to Alexa, Siri and more – so you’ll be able to talk to your TV remote control and play a song on Spotify, or tell your phone to turn on the air conditioning once the service is embedded in more Samsung products.
In the shorter term, Samsung is going to keep expanding the amount of apps that work with Bixby voice, so third parties can support the service too. This means you’ll be able to use voice to search through songs on streaming sites, open specific functions in apps and possibly even connect to non-Samsung devices too.
“We’re being approached by many different OEMs,” Rhee confirmed to us. “Not only smartphones, but we’re talking about car manufacturers, and others like audio makers are coming to us [too].”
But for now, just keep an eye on your Bixby Home screen and see when the update is coming – and start asking random questions to see what Bixby can do.