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Samsung's Bixby is a no-show on its new wearables

The giant's new smartwatches don't support its digital assistant though its earbuds do via a Samsung phone.

Samsung's new Gear Fit 2 Pro doesn't work with its Bixby voice assistant.
Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Samsung's crammed tons of features into its newest smartwatches, but one thing is missing: its Bixby voice assistant.

Samsung introduced its new Gear Sport smartwatch and Gear Fit 2 Pro, which are waterproof enough for swimming in the ocean, at the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin on Wednesday. Both have GPS and can automatically detect and track what fitness activities you're doing through various Under Armour apps. You can even download Spotify playlists to listen to music when away from your phone. And with the Gear Sport, you can stream workout videos to your Samsung TV and purchase items with Samsung Pay.

But you can't ask Bixby to help with any of that. Only the company's new Icon X 2018 wireless headphones have any Bixby functionality, and that's just because of their connection to a Samsung phone.

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"We're expecting that the service will be across our portfolio of devices, but we have nothing to announce yet [for wearables]," Silviu Moraru, a senior manager of product planning and product marketing at Samsung, told CNET at a press briefing ahead of the company's event. "We cannot do all of it at the same time."

Bixby, which debuted on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, was supposed to be Samsung's big move into the digital assistant world, a crowded field that already includes Apple's SiriAmazon's AlexaGoogle 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. The hope is to build a relationship with you now and ultimately get you to buy more of their products later.

But Bixby is off to a slow start. Samsung made it a significant part of the Galaxy S8 launch event and dedicated a physical button to Bixby, but the voice assistant didn't come until months after the phone was made available. Bixby made a shorter appearance at the Galaxy Note 8 launch, and will be part of that phone when it hits the market on September 15.

Injong Rhee, head of R&D for Samsung's mobile software and services operations, told CNET in March that the company plans to eventually roll out Bixby for all of its devices, from its phones to its TVs and home appliances. "Anywhere that has an internet connection and microphone, Bixby can be used," he said at the time.

That hasn't happened yet.

Moraru said the company is still investigating whether Bixby functionality can be added to the wearables later or if the smart assistant won't show up until newer models are released.

"I can't comment on how it would work," he said.

Samsung's approach to artificial intelligence and digital assistants is different than its rivals. Its primary target with Bixby is helping you control your phone instead of querying the web for answers about US presidents or other trivia topics. The company believes AI is the next major wave of computing, and Bixby is the manifestation of that belief.

For the Icon X 2018 headphones, Bixby can be used to do things like see your workout results or make phone calls. The functionality works when you're connected to your Samsung phone. There's no Bixby functionality on the earbuds themselves.

"This is still a relatively new experience on the phone," David Ng, senior manager of product marketing at Samsung North America, said during a briefing with reporters. He added that Samsung will have announcements related to Bixby on its wearables in the future. 

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