(With Julie Ask)

Last week, Samsung hosted its annual Developer Conference in San Jose, California. Developers sampled the company’s latest offerings for mobile app and web development, the internet of things, and artificial intelligence. Forrester clients may not be familiar with Samsung’s intelligent agent Bixby, but it’s primed to put other better-known agents such as Alexa and Siri to the test, especially in the connected home.

Bixby works on more than 160 million Samsung devices in the market today and supports eight languages. Devices it supports include smartphones, watches, and Galaxy Home devices such as Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy smart speaker and Samsung’s latest smart refrigerators. The number of developers working with the Bixby platform to develop “capsules” (or voice apps) has more than doubled since a year ago. According to Forrester’s executive survey among B2C commerce firms primarily based in North America, 38% have voice services in the market or are piloting voice services. However, only 3% of those surveyed support Bixby (see “Forrester Infographic: The State Of Voice Assistants, 2019“).

Bixby-Enabled Mobile Voice Apps Process More Complex, Natural-Language Requests

We sampled a number of third-party Bixby-enabled mobile apps at Samsung’s Developer Conference. Our verdict: The Bixby-enabled apps resemble those of its closest competitors — Alexa and Google Assistant — in that you still feel like you’re talking to a machine when requesting content or listening to responses. Your requests have to precisely invoke the name of the service or app. However, Bixby can process more complex requests relayed in natural language once you invoke the app. The speed of the response was solid.

Third-Party Developers Are Largely Positive About Working With Bixby And Its Development Platform

The Electron-based development platform goes beyond the API integration approach of other agents. “Capsule” (voice app) development starts by identifying contextual terms, which are then executed as graph-based visual models that developers can visualize after execution. Developers string together capsules into more complex flows and can quickly build capsules by importing libraries that describe common contextual intents, such as search terms, dates, or concepts. The development environment is free (but not open source).

While Samsung has abstracted a lot of complexity away from voice developers with the Bixby development tools, its web-dependent interface may prove a tough sell to the 55.6% of developers using Microsoft Visual Studio Code in this year’s Stack Overflow Developer Survey.

We asked developers about their experience of working with Bixby:

“Bixby support has been fantastic. We often get replies to our questions immediately via Slack or on Stack Overflow.” (Third-party Bixby developer)

“When developing for any proprietary voice-enabled platform, you have to be wary of the fact that the platform provider — Amazon, Google, or Samsung — owns the platform and can change their minds at any point. They can decide to disable what you’ve built or not be overly active in curating multiple experiences focused on the same customer need. Consistency from your voice platform provider is important. So far, Samsung’s been better than others when it comes to keeping us in the loop.” (Third-party Bixby developer)

But they have some reservations:

“I develop for multiple platforms and I get a check in the mail every month, but it’s not overly clear how the amount equates to actual use, and I feel like they could stop the payments at any point.” (Third-party developer who targets multiple voice-enabled platforms)

Brands Must Assess Consumer Preferences And Likelihood To Use A Voice Service Before Building It

Is your brand ready for a Bixby? While it’s useful and timely to pilot voice as part of a multimodal interaction strategy today, be aware: Just because consumers own a smart speaker or use a voice assistant to retrieve a baseball score doesn’t mean that they will use a voice interface to check a bank balance or purchase next week’s groceries. Brands can use “Forrester’s Moments Index” to assess consumers’ likelihood to use the voice services they build.

Brands must also pay attention to consumers’ comfort and preference for voice for different tasks: According to the Forrester Analytics Consumer Technographics® North American Online Benchmark Survey (Part 1), 2019, while 14% of US online adults prefer to use voice to control home devices, none prefer to use it to check bank balances or make shopping lists.

In addition, while customer experience and features may seem similar across voice platforms, the level of support and communication about platform policy changes that developers get may vary widely. It’s early days, so expect development teams to stay busy making modifications as new features emerge and existing ones evolve.