2017 is shaping up to be the year of the virtual assistant, with Google and Amazon already rolling out their new Assistant and Alexa software to more devices over previous months. Not forgetting that Apple’s Siri has already nabbed a big share of the smartphone market, tucked away in every iPhone, and Microsoft continues to focus on Cortana. Samsung has also announced its new virtual assistant – Bixby – this year. However, Samsung’s voice assistant is only available in South Korea at launch, will be rolling out to the US later in the spring, and other parts of the world over the coming year. Here’s how the big three – Bixby, Google Assistant, and Siri – stack up against one another.
The first major difference between the three is the way that users interact with them. Google Assistant and Siri rely on the tried and tested method of a hot word command, triggered either by a long press on the home button or always-on listening. “OK Google” and “Hey Siri” are terms that consumers are probably quite familiar with, but Samsung’s Bixby views these as an unnecessary step. Bixby is instead started up with a quick press of the dedicated button on the left side of Samsung’s Galaxy S8. From there, users can simply speak whatever command they wish, without the need for a polite precursor.
'OK Google' and 'Hey Siri' are terms that consumers are probably quite familiar with, but Samsung's Bixby views these as an unnecessary step. Opting for a dedicated button immediately makes Bixby feel quite different to use.
If you don’t feel like speaking, all three are also capable of fulfilling requests via text inputs. Bixby takes this one step further by also supporting image inputs, either directly from the camera, by searching through your gallery of existing pictures, or by looking up pictures through the company’s web browser. Bixby then provides contextual information, such as business listings, information on a landmark, or even details about a famous face identified in the picture. This isn’t entirely new though, Google Now on Tap can accomplish similar results by performing a search based on what’s currently on your screen.
The key thing here is that Bixby offers a slightly different take on how users will interact with it, compared with Google Assistant and Siri, for better or for worse. But the Bixby Button is not the feature that’s going to define the user experience.
The other big differentiator with the other three is just how far Samsung has gone with integrating Bixby into its other apps. For instance, Bixby can create a new album from pictures in your gallery or change your wallpaper to a newly taken picture. Samsung is looking to take the hassle out of scrolling through multiple menus, but this functionality is limited only to the handful of apps that Bixby supports – just 10 at launch. Samsung says that more apps on the way after launch, including support for third party applications once it opens up its Bixby SDK. That being said, the Bixby Home page does support cards and information from a wider variety of apps already.
Samsung isn’t the only assistant with notable app integration though, both Google Assistant and Siri work with a selection of compatible apps too. Google Assistant is integrated into the company’s Allo messenger, Photos, and Play Music. Google Assistant also lists Youtube, Spotify, Netflix, Uber, and other among the third-party apps that are currently supported, with more on the way.
Siri:Hot-word ("Hey Siri")
Google Assistant:Hot-word ("OK Google")
(more on the way)
Google Assistant:40 (Voice Search)
5 (Assistant Voice)
Similarly, Siri, iOS 10, and SiriKit have gotten a number of developers on-board with Apple’s virtual assistant too. Yelp, Facebook, Pinterest, WhatsApp, PayPal, Lyft, Uber, and others are currently supported on Apple’s platform, allowing users to perform a wide variety of tasks using just their voice.
Of course Google Assistant, Siri and Bixby are all integrated with the phone’s core functions to similar extents. Doing the basics, such as making calls, sending messages, setting reminders, and adding dates to your calendar, among other things, is done in pretty much the same way with all three assistants.
All in all, there’s a different selection of apps with varying levels of support across these different assistant platforms, so picking the one for you might come down to the apps you use the most. Being the newest platform, Bixby is at a disadvantage in terms of third-party apps, but it will likely catch up in time. If you’re a big fan of Samsung’s own apps though, Bixby does offer deeper integration in certain situations than other virtual assistants.
Wearables and fitness
One of the major announcements with Android Wear 2.0 was the introduction of Google Assistant, bringing the smart features to wearables. Unfortunately, with few of the existing wearables being updated to Android Wear 2.0, only a selection of Android smartwatches will get to make use of this feature in the immediate future.
Siri, on the other hand, is a big part of the Apple Watch, offering up voice commands for a lot of the smartwatch’s main features. Playing music, sending messages, and even toggling many of the watch’s settings can be done through voice commands, making it particularly useful given the limited screen space.
Given that Bixby is making its debut in the Galaxy S8, there’s no wearable implementation yet, but that doesn’t mean that Samsung is neglecting the market. Samsung Health is a prominent card on the Bixby homepage, meaning that step, workout, and other fitness information from Samsung’s lineup of wearables can already be brought into the assistant. The smart assistant looks like it will eventually find itself installed inside Samsung wearables in the future too, although the company hasn’t confirmed and official plans outside of suggesting that at least the Gear S3 will see an upgrade.
Building your smart home
Apple’s Siri may still be mostly an iPhone- and Watch-centric feature, but the assistant is compatible with a range of third-party smart home production on the market, through the company’s HomeKit initiative. Google and Samsung are going further by developing their own smart home products with integrated assistants.
Samsung has already demoed Bixby transferring the Galaxy S8’s display directly to one of the company’s smart TVs and viewing the contents of its latest smart fridge, and these Samsung Home features will work with Bixby at launch. We don’t know exactly how far Samsung plans to extend its smart home integration with Bixby, but we imagine that the focus will be on the company’s SmartThings range of products first and foremost.
Google Assistant is already well ahead in this regard, with support integrated into a number of IoT devices and already playing nicely with Google Home, Google WiFi, and Nest thermostats. Using IFTTT also means that you can users can link Google Assistant up with a wider range of gear. There’s some setup required, but this grants user control over their lights by saying something like “OK Google, switch on the living room lights”, providing that you have compatible hardware.
Of course, a virtual assistant is only useful if you can actually use it. Samsung’s Bixby is only launching on the Galaxy S8, meaning that it’s going to have a smaller market share in the immediate term than its competitors. However, Samsung has stated that Bixby will be coming to other devices, including smart home products, and it’s possible that other handsets launched this year and updated older models may receive the assistant in the future.
Google Assistant originally launched on the company's Pixel handsets, but is now compatible with handsets running Android 6.0 or newer.
Google Assistant originally launched on the company’s Pixel handsets, but has since appeared inside LG, HTC, and Samsung flagships via updates. In fact, it’s now officially supported on Android 6.0 and newer smartphones that receive an updated Google Search app. This means that around 30 percent of Android phones either already have or could soon have access to Google Assistant.
Siri can be found on a large share of smartphones, particularly in the West, thanks to the market share held by iPhones and the fact that the company has been using the same assistant for multiple generations. It’s going to take Bixby a while to catch up with Siri, but it might not take as long as some expect, given Samsung’s wider range of handsets sold each year.
- Samsung Galaxy S8
- Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
- (smart home and wearables in the future)
- iPhone 4S and newer
- Apple Watch
- Google Pixel & Pixel XL
- Android Wear 2.0 smartwatches
- Google Home
- Rolling out to other phones running Android 6.0 and up
Picking a winner at this early stage isn’t really possible, especially as there are a number of different capabilities and aims spread across the three virtual assistants. Google’s effort has a notable advantage as it will be arriving on many more devices going forward. Meanwhile Siri has no real competition on the iPhone, leaving it with a comfortable market share also.
Bixby is perhaps in the most precarious spot, as it’s going to be competing directly against Google Assistant on some devices. Bixby’s capabilities sound quite impressive thanks to its integration with other Samsung apps, but third party support is going to be the key to competing with Google, and this is where Samsung has some serious catching up to do.
Comparing features side by side, all of these assistants look to offer up very similar experiences, the differences at the moment are mostly down to app support and implementation.