A much-touted feature of Samsung's next smartphones isn't going to work as advertised when the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ launch on April 21. Samsung said it's delaying the launch of voice-command capabilities for its Bixby voice assistant in English, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
Although some of its features will still work, the report said, Bixby -- Samsung's answer to Apple's Siri -- won't be able to respond to any user voice commands, perhaps until as late as May. The Korean-language version of Bixby will have all of its features at launch, the Journal report said. Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Samsung touted Bixby as a centerpiece of its new phone during its March launch event for the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. They are Samsung's first major smartphones to go on sale since the disastrous recall of the exploding Galaxy Note 7 last year. Analysts said the introduction of Bixby indicated that Samsung was maturing as a company, and was trying to go toe to toe with Apple by offering strong software and hardware. The delay indicates that Samsung's ability to deliver on both may still be a work in progress, Edison Investment Research analyst Richard Windsor said in an investor's note Wednesday.
“Bixby falls even before its first hurdle,” Windsor said. “Samsung’s delay in the roll-out of Bixby is a strong indication of just how far behind Samsung is when it comes to artificial intelligence.”
Samsung customers who pick up the new phones won't be completely without a bot for barking orders. The phones will ship with Google Assistant, which is part of the Android operating system and boasts some of the same features as Bixby, such as helping users search for and order things such as movie tickets and restaurant reservations. Some analysts said that many Galaxy users may have opted to depend on Google Assistant anyway, as it was more well-known.
But the full Bixby assistant boasted the ability to let users control apps completely by voice, a feature that made it stand out from the crowd. Bixby also powers non-voice features, such as the ability to scan a user's surroundings with the phone's camera to identify not only their location, but also what coffee shops, stores or restaurants are nearby. It will also let you snap a picture of a product — a pair of tennis shoes, a bottle of wine — and use the image to search for places where you can buy them. The features that do not rely on voice commands will be a part of the phone at launch, the Journal's report said.
The launch of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ is crucial for Samsung. It not only has to move past the Note 7 crisis, but it must also compete with the specter of a completely overhauled iPhone, which many analysts are expecting this fall. According to analytics firm Trendforce, the unreleased, unannounced iPhone may already be limiting Samsung's full sales potential in the general smartphone market.
“The high-end model is expected to make limited sales contribution because the buzz surrounding the next-generation iPhone devices is dampening demand for products from non-Apple vendors,” the company said in a Tuesday report.
We'll have to see how Samsung die-hards take to the new smartphones. Most professional and fan commentary about the phone has focused on its physical design, which features a nearly all-screen front with no home button.
Samsung said earlier this week that its pre-orders for the Galaxy S8 are better than those for its previous phones. “Pre-orders of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ in the US are outpacing those of the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge with strong double digit growth,” the company said Monday.