LAS VEGAS - This past year, Alexa and Google Assistant have gotten a lot smarter when it comes to in-person conversation. Alexa has become a more natural conversationalist through features such as Follow-Up Mode and Alexa Answers, while just this morning Google announced a whole slew of new Assistant features specifically for phones, and hands-free use in cars.
Samsung's Bixby has never been ahead in that area. As a voice AI, it's not smart enough to be a real contender. In fact, many Galaxy owners have found its dedicated button so useless that they've turned it off entirely.
If its CES 2019 announcements are anything to go by, Samsung is taking its voice assistant down a different path this year. Specifically, the company is inserting Bixby into a market where Amazon and Google don't yet have a stronghold: large home appliances.
Amazon recently released an Alexa-enabled smart microwave, and some companies, such as LG and GE, make large kitchen appliances that work with Alexa and Google already. But neither Amazon nor Google has released anything resembling a fridge, oven, stove, or dryer, whereas Samsung has been in this category for years.
Could integrated home automation, rather than voice control, be Bixby's in? We tested Bixby's capabilities in two of Samsung's upcoming smart appliances to find out.
Samsung's smart fridges have incorporated Bixby for the past few years. but the newest fridges are shipping with a much smarter version of the digital assistant.
Now, Bixby can identify, on sight, all of the foods in your fridge (using cameras built into the device's door). On the fridge I saw, Bixby was completely accurate. However, nothing in the fridge was packaged, and I wonder if bags and boxes might give it a harder time.
From there, Bixby recommends ideal recipes (curated from AllRecipes, a Samsung partner) for the ingredients you have. You can also select specific ingredients you'd like to cook with.
Once you've selected a recipe on the screen, Bixby will get your other appliances up to speed (if they're also from Samsung's smart lineup). For example, it can preheat your oven to the required temperature, or turn on your stove. I couldn't believe how easy this was. "Preheat your oven to 350?" asked a prompt on the screen. I pressed "Yes." That's it!
Then, you can follow along with the recipe on your fridge (or just find it on Allrecipes yourself, if you'd rather not have to squint at your fridge while you cook). And if you don't have the smart fridge, you can also do all of the above from a Samsung phone.
You don't need Bixby to use the new smart washer and dryer, but it greatly expands what they can do. You can access a whopping 15 load settings with Bixby, in addition to those on the dryer itself. You can also use Bixby (on your phone) to schedule the devices to start washing and drying at specific times, and set the dryer to get itself going once the washer is done.
It's more elaborate than any fridge I've ever seen, but the controls were very intuitive. On each machine a dial, which is fun to turn and makes a very pleasant beeping noise, rotates between 12 load settings. Each setting toggles various metrics, including time, temperature, spin speed, steam and wrinkle prevention. You can change those settings manually, but Bixby won't let you screw up. (For example, it'll prevent you from washing dedicates on high).
Neither the smart fridge nor the smart washer is voice-enabled. But within them, Bixby is smart, and getting smarter. It's possible that this is where we'll see Bixby in the coming years: Not chatting with us, but helping us out in our homes.
Credit: Tom's Guide