Samsung today announced the launch of a toolkit for businesses and third-party developers to create voice apps compatible with intelligent assistant Bixby. The Bixby Developer Center will allow developers to create Bixby voice apps using AI-powered software to understand when to apply machine learning to automate tasks. Bixby is also expanding to speak Spanish, German, Italian, and French next year. The assistant currently only speaks English and Korean. A Bixby Marketplace is also in the works to sell and promote the work of third-party developers. Also today Samsung unveiled its first foldable smartphone the Infinity Flex, an API for developers to make smart TV apps with Bixby, and a series of updates for SmartThings, Samsungs IoT app. The announcements were made onstage at the Samsung Developer Conference being held November 7 and 8 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The launch of Bixby Developer Studio was highly anticipated following comments by Samsung mobile division CEO DJ Koh to CNBC in September. Bixby is available in the Samsung S8 and S9 smartphones, smart televisions, the Samsung Family Hub smart refrigerator, and soon in the Galaxy Home smart speaker. Samsung has some catching up to do to create a third-party ecosystem around its intelligent assistant, and new features for Bixby was a main topic during the keynote speech at SDC. By comparison, more than 50,000 skills made primarily with the Alexa Skills Kit are in the Alexa Skills Store, and hundreds of Google Assistant actions have been made with Dialogflow or the Actions on Google platform since 2016. In addition to being slow to build a third-party ecosystem, Bixby, which first became available in early 2017, has been generally considered far behind competitors like Amazons Alexa and Google Assistant in its set of features and capabilities. However, as the maker of 500 million devices a year, Samsung is one of the largest home appliance makers on the planet, and its definition of success may differ greatly from other tech companies deploying AI assistants. Since launch, Bixby has expanded to include things like Bixby Vision for visual search and Bixby Makeup, which lets you try on makeup using augmented reality. The second iteration of Bixby, dubbed Bixby 2.0, made its debut one year ago at SDC and was first included in Galaxy Note9. As intelligent assistants continue to ascend to a more prominent part of their day, consumers will do what they always do: Theyll find their favorites and theyll stick with them, Kittlaus said. As long as those favorites continue to deliver value they become the default. Bixby 2.0 is made to understand context, deep link with apps, remember your preferences, and serve as part of Samsungs effort to move from a content-centric world to a context-centric world, as Samsung head of product innovation Yoon C. Lee recently told VentureBeat. Bixby 2.0 builds upon the intelligence of Viv Labs, a company created by Siri cofounders Adam Cheyer and Dag Kittlaus that Samsung acquired in 2017 for a reported $215 million. More to come
Samsung is going to start letting app developers plug into Bixby, and hardware companies will be able to build the voice assistant into their products, too. In the year-and-a-half since Bixby launched, Samsung has already brought the assistant to phones, fridges, TVs, and more, but theyve all been Samsungs own devices. With todays news, other companies will be able to start building it into their own hardware as well, either as an alternative to Amazons Alexa and Googles Assistant — or, more likely, as an additional option for users who want to live in Samsungs ecosystem. Consumers may have more reason to embrace Bixby in the future, too, since third party developers will start being able to build services that plug into it. Its not entirely clear what to expect or what theyll look like — Samsung showed a demo of Bixby pulling up the various interfaces youd need to book a hotel stay — but Samsung is promising to make Bixby so open that developers will be able to make anything that Samsung itself could. Dag Kittlaus, CEO of Samsung-owned Viv Labs, says its the most powerful assistant toolkit ever made. Way ahead of the other guys, Kittlaus says. And its not even close. Samsung also plans to launch Bixby in a few new languages in the coming months, including German, Italian, and French. Itll also launch Spanish localized for Spain and English localized for the UK; those two languages are already available, but only with US localization. Smart assistants as a whole still arent all that smart, but Bixby in particular has been seen as among the weaker options. It was criticized at launch, and owners of some of Samsungs newest phones still complain about a dedicated Bixby button that they cant remap. Samsung is moving quickly — much quicker than Apple, for instance — to build out what Bixby is capable of doing by granting deep access to third parties. Its not clear how itll distribute these third-party Bixby features or how itll ensure that theyre safe and functional. But if it works out, Bixby could start looking a lot more like Alexa, which has more than 50,000 third-party skills.