When Samsung announced the Galaxy S8 and S8+, it also announced its new voice assistant called Bixby. In fact, the S8 models have an actual dedicated hardware key to invoke the assistant. Many people have criticised Samsung for going down this road instead of just embracing Google Assistant. Personally, I am hopeful and I actually think that Google Assistant is leaving the door wide open for Bixby.
Google Assistant is arguably the best of the voice assistants out there, mainly due to Google’s advances in natural language models and search technologies. However, it completely relies on server-side technologies and you sharing absolutely everything with Google. This is where I believe lies the opportunity for Samsung.
I personally don’t like sharing everything with Google and have the following activity controls turned to off:
- Web & App Activity
- Location History
- Device Information
- Voice & Audio Activity
- YouTube Search History
- YouTube Watch History
Turning these things off, though, means that you loose out on all functions from Google Now/Assistant. Some are understandable, but many also don’t seem at all understandable and in fact are a bit frustrating. On this site you can see many different commands that can be given to Google Assistant. I have tried several that should simply work with all the Activity Controls turned off, but don’t:
- Navigate Home: in order to ask it to take you home, you need to turn on Location History. This makes no sense, as I have configured in Google Maps my home address, so it should simply take me there, but instead requires me to give it access to all my movements.
- Baby Driver: looking for information on the film Baby Driver. It could just launch Google with this search term, but instead needs access to web & app activity, voice and audio activity and device information.
- Set an alarm for 17:00: again, it needs acces to the same things, while this is a purely on-device action.
Apple is betting that people want functionality like this, but are not willing to give up their privacy. Sure, as a result, it is slower rolling out features, but Siri is actually quite feature-rich already. Perhaps, Samsung should be the Apple within the Android ecosystem, focussing on an on-device Assistant that respects the users’ privacy.
I am certainly going to look into this, once Bixby is more widely available, as I don’t know currently how Samsung deals with the privacy aspect. I admittedly worry that they’ll want to have access to it all, just like Google, but a part of me hopes it will respect the data of the customers that just spend 800 euros on a phone. I’ll keep you posted.