Samsung's new Galaxy phones could make AR mainstream

Commentary: Thanks to Bixby Vision on the forthcoming Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, you can "try on" makeup and get an estimated calorie count of your meal with the phones' cameras. How did Samsung know what I wanted?

Ashlee Clark Thompson Associate Editor
Ashlee spent time as a newspaper reporter, AmeriCorps VISTA and an employee at a healthcare company before she landed at CNET. She loves to eat, write and watch "Golden Girls" (preferably all three at the same time). The first two hobbies help her out as an appliance reviewer. The last one makes her an asset to trivia teams. Ashlee also created the blog, AshleeEats.com, where she writes about casual dining in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ashlee Clark Thompson
3 min read

Bixby Vision lets you scan your food to get an estimated calorie count.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some of the features of Samsung's newest phones , the Galaxy S9 and the Galaxy S9 Plus, have left me shook. Not because of the onward march of technology but because it feels like Samsung has been spying on me.

The new Galaxy phones contain Bixby Vision, a tool within the camera app that uses optical image recognition. You can turn the S9's camera to the meal you're about to eat, and an estimated calorie count will come up on your screen. And Bixby Vision will also let you virtually try on makeup from Sephora and CoverGirl thanks to software from a company called ModiFace, which has created the augmented reality (AR) mirrors you may have seen at MAC makeup stores. 

I spend a lot of time hopping between MyFitnessPal and Instagram when I'm on my iPhone . In MyFitnessPal, I try my damnedest to keep track of what I've eaten so I can count calories and shave off a pound or two. Instagram is my happy place where I can get lost in 30-second clips of makeup tutorials by polished professional makeup artists and eager cosmetic enthusiasts.

And in one fell swoop, Samsung added a feature that has given me the wandering eye away from my iPhone.

The inclusion of Bixby Vision in the latest Galaxy phones makes a good case for incorporating more AR into your everyday life. Hunting Pokemon and finding the right Ikea couch may be fun, but they're not day-to-day activities for everyone. Samsung has made Bixby Vision a native part of its phones -- you don't have to download an app to access the feature. And the focus on health and beauty takes aim at folks like me who regularly turn to apps to manage their lives (and maybe learn a makeup trick or two).

Adding health and beauty centric features also appears to be a ploy to get more women to be attracted to Samsung phones. Studies have shown that women prefer the iPhone over Samsung phones. Including a built-in way to see how you look in new makeup is about as subtle as holding up a hot-pink poster with the words, "Women, buy me!" over the Galaxy phones. (Not to say that men can't work magic with a blending brush -- just check out this young man.)

Samsung isn't alone in turning to AR to bolster health-related features on smart devices. Later this year, the Whirlpool-owned Yummly app will visually scan and identify foods and give you recipe recommendations based on what it sees. I wouldn't be surprised if we soon see a camera or app that is smart enough to identify foods, recommend recipes and provide calorie estimates. And in that case, I'll have my checkbook ready. Yes, I still write checks.

We still have to see whether the Bixby Vision feature is any good -- I'm not completely sold on Bixby. Samsung's voice assistant still lacks the track record of competitors such as  Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple's Siri . And the Galaxy S9's AR Emoji, an answer to Apple's animoji, veers more toward eerie than ingenious. But Bixby Vision and its potential to actually be a tool I'd use have gotten my attention.