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Samsung Galaxy S8 hits launch snag with Bixby voice assistant

While the global version will include the key feature from the get-go, phones coming to the US, Australia and the UK will have to wait a little longer.

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Don't expect to start talking to Samsung's Bixby voice assistant when you boot up your new Galaxy S8 later this month.

The key feature was expected to debut on the new flagship handset, but the electronics giant is now saying Bixby won't be operational on the US version of the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus when they ship to consumers starting April 21.

"Key features of Bixby, including Vision, Home and Reminder, will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21," Samsung said in a statement. "Bixby Voice will be available in the US on the Galaxy S8 later this spring."

The Samsung software is the latest entrant in the crowded field of digital assistants, which already includes Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, the Google Assistant and Microsoft's Cortana. Every tech heavyweight is investing in these assistants because they're heralded as the future of how we'll interact with our gadgets.

Bixby is one of the marquee features of Samsung's latest flagship phone, and the company is touting it as a more personalized search tool for the device. The Korean consumer electronics giant is banking that positive reception for the Galaxy S8, which sports a sleek design that sheds the home button and slims down the frame for a larger display in a more compact body, will wipe away the bitter taste left from the Galaxy Note 7 incident.

It's unclear how the loss of Bixby at launch will affect sales, since voice assistants don't rank as high for consumers pondering a new phone as other factors such as battery life and camera quality. Samsung said preorders for the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are up double-digits from the early orders for the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge.

Bixby Voice won't be on the launch version in the UK either. "All Bixby functionality, bar the Voice Function, will be available to UK customers at launch. Bixby Voice will be available in US English later this spring, and will expand to more languages globally over time," a Samsung spokesperson in the UK said in a statement.

Likewise, Australians will also need to wait for Samsung's virtual assistant. At the Australian launch of the S8 and S8 Plus, Samsung said Bixby Voice would be coming to Australia "in the coming months." Richard Fink, VP, IT & Mobile Division, Samsung Australia, said that Samsung was working with local language experts to ensure Bixby would be a good experience for Aussies.

The market for voice assistants also hasn't yet gelled, so there's time for Samsung to catch up.

"They are late, but it's still early in the voice assistant marketplace," said Tim Bajarin, president of tech consulting firm Creative Strategies.

In addition, Samsung is taking a different approach from that of its rivals. Instead of being able to answer questions like "What's the weather today," Bixby will help you control your phone. Samsung says you'll be able to do things like tell the phone, "Find a photo of the Sagrada Familia. Send that image to Sally."

The company also envisions Bixby coming to its different array of Samsung devices, popping up in everything from refrigerators to washing machines.

The Galaxy S8 has a button dedicated to Bixby, kind of like a walkie-talkie. It's unclear what that button will do at launch, and a Samsung spokesman wasn't immediately available to comment.

As late as last month, Bixby was still firmly in beta mode. Samsung said it will work on Bixby until the two S8 phones arrive in stores on April 21, and even long after. The company had even warned that Bixby might not come preloaded on the phone -- possibly arriving later as a software update.

Originally published April 11 at 4:44 p.m. PT.
Updated at 4:55 p.m. PT: To include analyst quote and additional background.

Updated on April 12 at 5:14 p.m. PT: To include Australian release information.

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