Samsung still needs more data to launch Bixby in English, report says

Rumor claims Bixby might be ready to chat as soon as next week

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

A rumor is circulating online that the English-language version of Samsung’s virtual assistant will debut on July 18. The leak comes from Reddit, and shows a link to a retail training webinar with the subject line “Bixby Voice Launch Tuesday, 7/18.” The image does not clarify specifically in which regions Bixby could launch on that day, nor can we verify its authenticity.

The English launch of Bixby Voice has dragged on for months, with little official indication of when Samsung may be planning to put an end to all the waiting. It was supposed to debut before the end of June, but that due date came and went without any noise. Meanwhile, a recent report from the Korea Herald has offered some explanations.

Bixby’s inability to process English grammar and syntax is, in fact, the result of a lack of data, according to the article. This wouldn’t be terribly surprising, given that the machine-learning models which underpin digital assistants thrive on repeated usage. If Samsung is trying to install Bixby with a deep understanding of the language, it will need an abundance of trials to make it possible.

That could explain why Samsung emphasized further beta testing in a statement made in May. “Bixby Voice benefits from time to further enhance natural language understanding,” a representative from the company told Digital Trends at the time, “and we are currently growing our user testing in the U.S. to prepare for launch.”

This is currently the second major delay the virtual assistant has faced since Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S8 smartphone launched in April. The handset released alongside other Bixby features, such as Vision, Home, and Reminder, though the Voice portion of the software — easily the most significant aspect — was curiously omitted outside the South Korean market.

Koh Dong-jin, Samsung’s mobile chief, said the English version would be out by May. When that did not happen, the company turned everyone’s attention to last month.

The continued absence is even more striking considering Samsung’s bullish move to place a dedicated Bixby button on the side of the S8. One day, that key should trigger Bixby Voice. As of now, it still only leads to Hello Bixby, a Google Now-like card interface that aggregates weather, calendar appointments, news stories, and other areas of interest.

So where could Bixby be headed from here? Unsatisfactory responses from beta testing in the States seemingly instilled the company with doubt over a full release in June. Samsung will need even more time to catch up to Google, Amazon, and Apple in terms of data to perfect its assistant — and it was already well behind to begin with. Closing the gap has proved difficult, thanks to another roadblock mentioned in the Herald’s report.

According to an anonymous source referenced by the publication, geographic and language barriers have broken down communications between the American and South Korean development teams. That ironic twist means the Korean version has advanced at a far quicker pace than the English software.

Analysts expected Bixby’s English debut wouldn’t be delayed past the fall, but at this point that possibility doesn’t seem completely out of the question as Samsung’s struggles continue. Meanwhile, rumors suggest the company has been forced to push back plans for a stand-alone Bixby-powered smart speaker, similar to Amazon’s Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s upcoming HomePod.

Update: Added information about a rumored July 18 release date for Bixby Voice.