Bixby, Samsung’s voice assistant, was launched in version 1.0 with the Galaxy S8 six months ago is going to be updated to 2.0 soon. Announced at the Samsung Developer Conference (SDC) today, the new version will be much better and extend well beyond smartphones.

Bixby 2.0 has been designed to run outside the smartphone ecosystem. Naturally, WIFI connected devices would land themselves well to Bixby. Things like TVs, intelligent speakers and computers could all be part of a smart environment. In fact, Bixby is coming to (some) Samsung TVs in Korea and the USA. For non-connected devices Samsung has Project Ambiance. The idea of Ambiance is to drop low-cost microphones in several locations to make homes smarter.

A Bixby 2.0 demo with a mock-up living room

The overall idea of Bixby 2.0 is that natural language can accomplish complex tasks more efficiently than tapping and browsing apps screens. During the SDC first keynote, the example of ordering a pizza was cited: “order a pizza and have it delivered it at home” would take minutes if executed via tactile UI and apps.

While the reality of voice commands is a bit more complex than this example, Dr. Injong Rhee (CTO & EVP of Software & Services) makes a good point: in many situations, natural language could be the most powerful user interface of all, assuming that the system is smart enough to make it work. That is particularly true with devices that traditionally do not have a strong user interface (appliances, cars).

Dag Kittlaus at SDC 2017

Dag Kittlaus (Vice President Samsung Electronics, CEO of Viv Labs) knows this well as he ran the Siri and speech recognition group at Apple before joining Samsung via Viv Lab’s acquisition. When he was on stage this morning, he recognized that voice interfaces had previously not reached a point where they went from “novelty” to tools intricately woven into people’s daily lives. However, he pitched (to developers) a near future in which that would happen, with Bixby 2.0 of course.

Samsung also understands that Bixby 2.0 needs to be open, and has promised that “everything that Samsung can do [with Bixby], developers can do it too.” Following the announcement, the Bixby 2.0 development kit has entered beta phase. Although you can expect that Samsung products will be featuring Bixby, third-party hardware companies can also integrate it. A healthy eco-system support is vital for this project to succeeds.

It is too early to tell how good Bixby 2.0 is going to be, but to make it work, Samsung has unified all its IoT activities under the SmartThings Cloud platform, which is accessible via a single API. The platform is also open to third party hardware and software partners, and the goal is to reduce the consumer IoT fragmentation which remains a huge problem in general. End-users will not embrace smart things via a myriad of different apps. The Samsung SmartThings Cloud platform is a sophisticated piece of technology that is run in various data-centers around the world to power the logic, notifications, events, and commands for connected devices.

With Bixby 2.0 as a common interface and SmartThings Cloud platform as the information backbone, Samsung has all the pieces it needs to build the IoT vision it is promoting to developers (~5000 at the SDC17 event). In theory, the company could also leverage its internal hardware-software synergy to get things moving and inspire others to jump on board. As it stands, we can surely expect to see more demos of Bixby 2.0 at CES 2018. Both Google and Amazon have been working furiously on this as well. Amazon has a head-start with developer adoption, and Google is doing very well in deep-science and AI. Samsung will compete with both at the same time.

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