Samsung's Bixby, now even smarter, arrives on fridges

Along with unveiling its Bixby 2.0 digital assistant, the company says it's working on a project to make dumb products internet-connected.

Shara Tibken Former managing editor
Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
4 min read

Samsung's hosting its fourth annual developer conference this week in San Francisco.

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Your appliances are about to get a lot smarter. 

Samsung on Wednesday said the second generation of its Bixby digital assistant will be coming to its various non-mobile devices including its smart TVs in the US and Korea in 2018, as well as its Family Hub refrigerator . The company also announced a new SDK for developers to make apps that work with Bixby.  

Bixby 2.0, Samsung's answer to the likes of Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa, is smarter than its first version, with deep-linking capabilities and improved natural language capabilities. It can better recognize individual users and better predict peoples' needs. The update integrates predictive technology from Viv, which Samsung has said would help the software work with third-party apps. 

At the Samsung Developer Conference on Wednesday, Koh Dong-jin, the head of Samsung's mobile business, laid out the company's vision for the future beyond the smartphone: everything connected. 

"At Samsung we see a new era of seamless experiences that break the barrier of a single device," Koh said. 

Samsung made the announcements at its fourth annual developers conference, taking place this week in San Francisco. The event, which started off small at a San Francisco hotel, last year expanded to Moscone Center West, where Apple previously held its developer conference. This year, 5,000 people are attending SDC, Koh said. Last year, about 4,000 developers attended.


Koh Dong-jin, head of Samsung's mobile business, talks up the company's vision for everything to be connected.

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Samsung has had difficulty generating enthusiasm for many of its software products. The company leans on Google's Android software to run the vast majority of its smartphones and tablets, while its own Tizen operating system has struggled to gain a foothold. Meanwhile, Samsung has scrapped many of the services it's created, like the Samsung Media Hub and Milk Video.

But it keeps trying. Samsung introduced Bixby on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus earlier this year and has been pushing SmartThings . It's also partnered with Facebook's Oculus on virtual reality for mobile devices. For Samsung, getting developers to create unique apps for its broad range of products -- from its televisions to its smartwatches -- is key.

Everything connected

Along with Bixby 2.0, Samsung Chief Technology Officer Injong Rhee showed off Project Ambience, an effort to make dumb items -- even toys, lamps and wireless chargers -- smarter. It's a dongle that can make something like a regular speaker a smart speaker, he said. 

"These inexpensive dongles can be placed anywhere," Rhee said of the project, currently just a prototype. "Project Ambience technology can be embedded into actual things."


Injong Rhee, Samsung's chief technology officer, talks up efforts by the company to make "dumb" devices smarter. 

James Martin/CNET

Samsung also said it's partnering with Google to bring augmented reality to users of the Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus and Galaxy Note 8 . Developers will be able to use the ARCore SDK to make AR apps for Samsung devices. 

Clay Bavor, head of Google's AR and VR efforts, said apps that are most promising for AR make use of positional tracking capabilities, blend the digital and physical worlds, and help you better understand the real world. 

Samsung has also announced the 360 Round, a new 17-lens camera that can be used to develop and stream high-quality 3D content for virtual reality. It has shown off similar cameras in the past. 

And the company said it's uniting its various internet of things services -- SmartThings, Samsung Connect and its ARTIK processor platform -- into one united system called SmartThings Cloud. 

Watch this: Siri vs. Google Assistant vs. Bixby

Bixby 2.0

Since introducing Bixby earlier this year, Samsung has vowed it would eventually come to all of its products, including its appliances and televisions. Last month, Yoon Boo-Keun, the head of Samsung's electronics business, said in an interview that integration was "already in full swing."

Bixby acts as a new interface to control your phone, but it will be different for Samsung's appliances and televisions, Yoon told Süddeutsche Zeitung at the IFA electronics show. For Samsung's connected refrigerators , Bixby will be able to recommend recipes based on what you have in your kitchen, the newspaper said. For TVs, it would learn what shows you normally watch and automatically play them when you turn on the television, Yoon said. 

Yoon C. Lee, a senior vice president at Samsung Electronics America, made the pitch for why developers should make apps for refrigerators. 

People are "in the kitchen 60 percent of the time at home when not sleeping," Lee said. It's the "prime gathering spot in the home." 


Samsung's 360 Round camera will shoot video for virtual reality. 

James Martin/CNET

Bixby on the Family Hub refrigerator will be able to read recipes out loud to you or, using intelligence image recognition, automatically send you an alert when it sees that you're running low on an item, he said.

Technology from Viv in Bixby, meanwhile, is intended to handle everyday tasks for you, like ordering flowers, booking hotel rooms and researching weather conditions, all in response to natural language commands. The creators -- who included one of Siri's makers, Dag Kittlaus -- say their software understands your requests and engages in conversation with you to fulfill them, instead of making you speak formulated commands like other AI assistants do. Samsung bought Viv to improve its voice assistant, and Bixby 2.0 is the first version to use the technology. 

Samsung's new Bixby SDK will be available to "select developers" and through a private beta program, with general availability arriving "in the near future," the company said. 

Multiple updates until 11:45 a.m. PT: Adds more from press conference announcements. 

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