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Samsung will open voice assistant Bixby to rival products in the future in challenge to Amazon’s Alexa

  • Samsung will allow its digital assistant Bixby to be integrated into rival products in the future
  • DJ Koh, the head of Samsung's mobile division, said that this first version of Bixby is "just a baby", but the long-term ambitions is to have it control many devices
  • Samsung has expanded Bixby to over 200 countries and regions
Sriram Thodla, senior director of services and new business at Samsung, speaks about the new voice agent named 'Bixby.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Sriram Thodla, senior director of services and new business at Samsung, speaks about the new voice agent named 'Bixby.

Samsung will allow its digital assistant Bixby to be integrated with rival products from washing machines to TVs, the company's mobile chief told CNBC, in a move that could position it to become the operating system of many internet-connected devices.

Bixby was introduced earlier this year when Samsung unveiled the flagship Galaxy S8 smartphone. It is a voice assistant that allows users to ask it to carry out tasks, similar to Apple's Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa.

On Tuesday, Samsung announced plans to bring Bixby to over 200 countries and regions, and also launched it on the Note 8 smartphone which was unveiled Wednesday.

DJ Koh, the head of Samsung's mobile division, said that this first version of Bixby is "just a baby", but the long-term ambitions is to have the digital assistant able to control all sorts of devices.

"In Samsung, there are many customers using Samsung TVs, refrigerators, washing machines and smartphones. If those kinds of devices are connected and then you can control by just using voice, that is my vision," Koh told CNBC in an interview.

So far, Bixby is only available on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ and Note 8. Siri is only available on Apple's products. And Google Assistant is on Android smartphones and its Google Home smart speaker.

Amazon's Alexa is the only voice assistant that has really expanded beyond the company's own products. Earlier this year, Amazon made a number of announcements about regarding Alexa being on rival products. The aim for Amazon, according to analysts, is to become the operating system for the internet of things, similar to what Google has done with Android on mobile.

Internet-connected devices like washing machines or refrigerators don't have screens, so voice is a natural way to interact. Samsung hopes to position itself as a key player when it comes to Bixby being on internet of things devices. And this could mean opening up the platform on rival products.

Koh spoke about what the company has done with, the contactless payment system on its smartphones. In its home market of South Korea, Samsung has allowed its payment system to be on rival Android smartphones. This is a similar path, the company could take with Bixby.

"Always what I am trying to pursue is an open innovation system. We may start with Samsung Electronics devices but how can we just stay in Samsung products? We must enhance it," Koh told CNBC.

If Samsung is successful in expanding Bixby on other devices and appliances, it could open a new revenue stream for the company, because it may be able to license the technology as well as sell services to consumers.

Samsung a 'threat'

But Bixby has been plagued by problems since it was announced earlier this year. It wasn't immediately available to users and many of the features promised have still not been rolled out.

Koh admitted that there are "lots of areas we need to improve." Francisco Jeronimo, research director for European mobile devices at IDC, said Samsung "need to get it right" with Bixby to stand a chance, especially with Amazon and Google making big strides.

Another difficulty Samsung could encounter is rivals not wanting to use Bixby, especially as the company competes with several others in areas from TVs, to smartphones and home appliances. Jeronimo suggested some companies would rather go with Amazon or Google's platform, as they are not direct competitors.

"I don't see why someone would go with Samsung when they can go with Google or Amazon. Because Samsung is a threat in the end," Jeronimo told CNBC in a phone interview.