Samsung touts new virtual assistant ahead of Galaxy S8 launch

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Samsung's Bixby will be the newest entrant in a segment that's emerging as one of the most important battlegrounds in the wireless market. Image: Flickr user TechStage

Samsung is joining the artificial intelligence bandwagon as it hopes to regain its lost momentum in the smartphone market.

The Korean electronics giant unveiled Bixby, its response to AI-powered personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. The offering will debut with the Galaxy S8, which is slated to be announced next week, and will eventually be supported by Samsung’s entire line of “appliances,” Senior Vice President InJong Rhee wrote on the company’s blog.

“Bixby will be our first step on a journey to completely open up new ways of interacting with your phone,” Rhee wrote. “At the launch of the Galaxy S8, a subset of preinstalled applications will be Bixby-enabled. This set will continue to expand over time. Our plan is to eventually release a tool (in SDK) to enable third-party developers to make their applications and services Bixby-enabled easily.”

The release of the Galaxy S8 is monumentally important for Samsung, which is still recovering from the disastrous recall of the Galaxy Note 7. Samsung slashed its third-quarter profit estimates by $2.3 billion due to the Note 7, and the company suffered its worst decline in global smartphone sales in its history during the period, as sales plunged 14.2 percent year over year and the company’s market share dropped to 19.2 percent from 23.6 percent.

Bixby will be the newest entrant in a segment that is emerging as one of the most important battlegrounds in the wireless market. Google said recently that it will roll out support for its Assistant to phones running versions 6 and 7 of its Android mobile operating system, finally expanding its reach beyond the Pixel and other Google-branded hardware as the company stepped up its efforts against Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and others.

The war of AI-powered assistants comes as the dust settles in the fight for dominance in the world of mobile operating systems. Gartner recently found that Android and iOS combined to claim a dominating 99.6% of all new smartphones sold worldwide in the fourth quarter of 2016. Microsoft’s mobile operating system saw its share of the market dwindle to 0.3%, down from 1.1% the previous year. BlackBerry’s shares fell below 0.1%. All other operating systems accounted for 0.1% of sales.

With the global battle over mobile operating systems all but over, handset vendors and other players are looking to virtual assistants to differentiate their offerings and attract developers. “Voice assistants and their related cognitive capabilities are becoming the next big battleground across all aspects of technology,” Ben Wood of CCS Insights wrote last month.