Samsung puts Bixby into its new Fold, S10 phones and Galaxy Buds

Despite the voice assistant's small following, the tech titan pushes Bixby in its new device lineup.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read
James Martin/CNET

If Samsung's Bixby voice assistant was supposed to be dead on arrival, someone forgot to tell Samsung.

Bixby wasn't close to being the main course at Samsung's Unpacked press event in San Francisco on Wednesday, where the Korean tech titan unveiled a new foldable phone and its latest lineup of Galaxy S10 phones. But the company managed to weave its digital assistant into just about every new device it showed off.

The company said its new S10 and Galaxy Fold phones will include the Bixby Routines feature, which predicts your needs during certain times of the day and provides personalized recommendations based on your patterns. Preset routines will include Driving and Before Bed to help cut down on taps and swipes on your phone. With its newer iOS operating systems, Apple has also worked to make its phones better at predicting users' needs and routines.

Samsung also unveiled wireless earbuds called Galaxy Buds, which connect to Bixby on your Samsung phone, letting you use your voice to make calls, send texts and check battery life from your Buds. The new Galaxy Watch Active smartwatch also works with Bixby. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S5e, announced last week, is the first tablet to support Bixby. 

Additionally, Samsung said Wednesday that Bixby now offers four new languages worldwide: British English, German, Italian and Spanish. Those join the existing languages of US English, Korean and Mandarin Chinese. Samsung first announced plans to include the new languages in November.

Since launching the Bixby voice assistant about a year ago, Samsung has been talking it up big time. The company describes Bixby as central to its work to bring artificial intelligence to its devices, and it's been scrambling to add Bixby into its phones, fridges and TVs . For its next steps, Samsung will launch in April the Bixby-powered Galaxy Home smart speaker to compete against the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo and Google Assistant-powered Home, and the company will also open up Bixby to third-party developers.

Despite all this work, there are many reasons to be skeptical that Bixby will become a success. First off, only 4 percent of Americans who use a voice assistant on their phones actually use Bixby, according to a survey by Voicebot.AI. That's compared with 44 percent for Apple's Siri . Plus, Amazon and Google have already sold millions of smart speakers and now dominate that market worldwide, making it tough for new entrants to elbow their way in.

Also, Samsung's track record for its own services and software has been spotty, with many efforts scrapped within a few years. For instance, Tizen, Samsung's operating system, was pushed to its wearables, instead of coming into its higher profile phones.

With the voice assistant market already flooded with competitors, it's possible Samsung is just too late to make an impact.

As Wednesday's event showed, Samsung seems to be charging forward, regardless of those challenges. The fact that it's the world's largest smartphone maker and builds so many types of home appliances gives it an obvious advantage over Amazon and Google, which need to rely on other companies to integrate their voice assistants into their products.

Also, Apple has fallen far behind in smart-home and voice assistant tech, giving Samsung an opportunity to swoop in as a credible alternative to Alexa and Google Assistant. One thing that may slow Samsung down, though, is that both Alexa and Assistant are already available on Samsung phones.