Samsung's Siri Rival, Bixby, Hopes to Have You at 'Hello'

By Timothy W. Martin Features Dow Jones Newswires

Bixby, Samsung Electronics Co.'s voice-activated virtual assistant, may be late to the party, but its U.S. launch Wednesday presents a new contender to Apple Inc.'s Siri in the race to make smartphones smarter and more user-friendly.

Continue Reading Below

The English-language version of Bixby, an artificial-intelligence service used to field tasks, had suffered a string of delays despite Samsung's vows that it would be available this spring.

Samsung executives had touted Bixby's potential in the buildup to the April release of the Galaxy S8--the company's first flagship smartphone since last year's Galaxy Note 7 debacle.

The Wall Street Journal had previously reported that the virtual assistant wouldn't likely be ready until the second half of July, and that the service had struggled to comprehend English syntax and grammar during internal tests.

The South Korean technology giant said Wednesday that Bixby would offer full integration across its core Samsung apps, promising that almost anything that users could do by touching or typing could now be accomplished with a voice command. It is capable of multiple tasks with a single voice command, such as locating a nearby steakhouse and hailing a taxi, Samsung said.

Bixby had been available months earlier in Korean in Samsung's home market, and the world's largest smartphone maker had been piloting an "early access" program for Bixby's English-language version since last month, enlisting tens of thousands of U.S. consumers.

Continue Reading Below

Samsung has devoted significant resources to developing and promoting Bixby, and has a button on the side of the Galaxy S8 dedicated to activating the virtual assistant. Users can also summon the service by saying "Hi Bixby" or "Hello Bixby."

Bixby's English-language stumbles have also tripped up Samsung's development of a voice-activated speaker, a project code-named "Vega" that has been in the works for more than a year, the Journal previously reported.

The speaker, similar to Amazon.com Inc.'s Echo, will be powered by Bixby.

Samsung and its rivals envision a future filled with devices underpinned by artificial intelligence, where consumers can talk to and listen to their devices, rather than tapping and swiping. In addition to Siri and Bixby, Alphabet Inc.'s Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are major players in voice AI.

At the moment, these voice features remain rudimentary and inconvenient, and rely heavily on consumer feedback to make the services smarter and faster.

Just 9% of consumers use digital assistants such as Siri or Bixby on a regular basis, according to a survey by Ovum, a market-research firm, which also found that 50% of consumers had no interest in or knowledge of digital assistants.

Write to Timothy W. Martin at timothy.martin@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 19, 2017 05:41 ET (09:41 GMT)