Samsung Opening Bixby Digital Assistant to Third-Party Developers

Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and… Bixby?

For tech pros interested in the rise of voice-activated digital assistants, Samsung’s Bixby may have seemed like an also-ran, if they considered it at all. But Samsung clearly wants Bixby to assume a more prominent place in developers’ minds—which is why it’s opening up the platform to third-party apps.

At the core of Samsung’s new initiative is the Bixby Developer Center, which offers code samples, developer documentation, APIs, a UI kit, and a quick start guide. As Samsung warns in those materials, however, developing for Bixby is radically different than building a “traditional” piece of software.

“You perform modeling, which is how you teach Bixby about the domain you’re implementing,” is how Samsung explains the assistant’s inner workings. “Using your models, and those of other developers, Bixby constructs a program that satisfies the user’s specific request in milliseconds the moment the request is made.”

On a practical level, that means the developer creates a “capsule” (Samsung’s term for app), and then adds “concepts” and “actions.” In Samsung’s methodology, “concepts” are what Bixby knows (for example, the number of sides on a dice, or the sum of multiple dice rolls), and “actions” are what Bixby can do (such as tell the user the result of a dice toss).

In theory, Bixby uses those inputs to generate a program that responds to a user’s natural-language query. It will parse that query to derive intent, then generate a plan for a response based on the concepts and actions, then fetch the necessary data from whatever backend API is relevant, then provide the answer.

Samsung’s documentation offers a lot of solid advice for planning out a capsule, including how to map out “use cases,” and examples of input and output tables. Samsung plans on rolling out a marketplace for third-party capsules sometime in 2019, giving developers some time to build out their ideas.

Yet Samsung faces substantial competition from its digital-assistant rivals, which haven’t been slouches when it comes to building out third-party capabilities. For example, Amazon allows developers to build and monetize Alexa “skills” in categories ranging from music and productivity to games and trivia. Apple has also angled Siri as a developer-friendly platform, giving developers the ability to build HomeKit routines accessible via voice commands (“Siri, turn on the lights and unlock the front door!”); and Google has Actions, which are targeted at multiple verticals.

Although Samsung is a significant competitor in the smartphone arena, it clearly has some ground to make up in the digital-assistant category. But Bixby attracted dreadful reviews upon release, and it remains to be seen whether developers will pay the platform much attention, no matter how big Samsung’s smartphone install base.


2 Responses to “Samsung Opening Bixby Digital Assistant to Third-Party Developers”

  1. Ben Foehammer

    If they run the 3rd party development policies and requirements in the same way they do the Samsung Smartthings smart home and automation series, they will have a chance to catch up. It still amazes me how open and willing to provide almost every customization option Samsung is with that product line, albeit with some restrictions which frustrate some folks. That said, it should be said that the Smartthings open development culture existed prior to Samsung’s acquisition. Still, very rare to see a company that large adopting or retaining that type of openess.

    Nick, great write up, good explanations of all. I do think you missed an opportunity to find out if there are any plans plans or discussions by Samsung leadership to integrate the Smartthings and Bixby programs and development communities. I don’t know of anyone who runs Smartthings also using Bixby. Usually Google Assistant, Amazon Echo Alexa, or both.

    However it goes, all of these voice assistants will not grow beyond being novelties until they start to address the script requirements. Right now if you want any of those systems to do something for you, you are required to say the command in the exact order with the exact words of was originally configured. So if configured as “OK Google, turn on living room light” but you say “ok Google, could you please turn the lights in the living room on?” it won’t work.

    An Android app called Tasker has a solution if using the plug in called AutoVoice. You can use that program to completely replace the Google Assistant all together, and are addressing many issues, including the script requirements. AutoVoice leverages a service called Natural Voice which specifically addresses it.

    Bottom line, if Samsung wants it to succeed, open and leverage everything.