When Samsung announced the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus last month, its two biggest highlights were a bezel-less curved OLED display and a new Bixby AI assistant. Bixby was said to be Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri. Samsung even included a dedicated button on the left side of the phone to activate the feature. However, people who pre-ordered the Galaxy S8 or are looking to buy one soon after the launch are going to be disappointed.

Samsung Galaxy S8
Image Credit: Samsung Mobile / YouTube video (screenshot)

Bixby Voice will not be available at Galaxy S8 launch

One of the most important features of the AI assistant will not be available at the time of the Galaxy S8 launch on April 21. Though the official global launch is on April 21st, people who have pre-ordered the new phone will get it on April 18th. Samsung said in a statement that the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus would be missing Bixby Voice at the time of launch. It simply means the “voice assistant” will not offer any voice controls in the beginning.

The Korean company said other Bixby features such as Home, Vision, and Reminder on the Galaxy S8 would work right out of the box. Bixby Voice will be made available in the US “later this spring.” Samsung’s virtual assistant is said to distinguish itself from rivals by allowing you to control the device and apps using voice commands rather than touch.

Bixby still has a long way to go

It can perform several manual tasks on your behalf. The voice assistant helps you with features like location awareness and image recognition. Samsung launched Bixby to strengthen its position in the rapidly growing market of AI assistants, which is already crowded with Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant. Given the importance of Bixby, it came as a surprise that the Voice feature won’t be shipping with the Galaxy S8.

Though Samsung is planning to take on giants like Siri and Google Assistant, Bixby is still in its infancy. It currently speaks only two languages – Korean and US English. Citing inside sources, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Bixby’s voice performance in English was still lagging behind its performance in the Korean language. Samsung is yet to decide when it would make the AI assistant available in English.

Why use Bixby when you have Google Assistant?

Experts who reviewed the AI assistant were disappointed with the results. Bixby failed to speak during the demo. Bob O’Donnell of Technalysis Research told AFP that Bixby was “not talking yet.” There is still room to expand and grow. Independent analyst Richard Windsor said Bixby has “very little intelligence.” Samsung last year acquired the US AI startup Viv Labs to enhance the capabilities of Bixby.

Samsung is expected to roll out a major update to Bixby later this year to enhance its capabilities. It would be able to talk to you in German, Chinese, Spanish, and British English by the end of this year. While the update may be a long time way, the voice assistant faces an immediate threat from Google Assistant, which comes pre-installed with Android Nougat.

Why would people want to use an underdeveloped Bixby when they have access to a more advanced Google Assistant? Even the dedicated side button for Bixby can be reconfigured to launch Google Assistant. Also, Google Assistant speaks more languages than Bixby, which means it can serve a much larger user base.

Galaxy S8 off to a flying start

It is unclear how the lack of Bixby Voice feature would affect the Galaxy S8 sales. For potential buyers, camera, battery life, and safety are still more important than AI assistant. Samsung had already received large pre-orders for the Galaxy S8 before announcing the lack of Bixby Voice. The Korean company claims the S8 pre-orders are much higher than the S7 pre-orders in the same period a year ago.

Samsung’s mobile chief DJ Koh said in a press statement the Galaxy S8 was “our testament to regaining your trust.” The company has taken a series of initiatives to make the phones safer after the Galaxy Note 7 disaster. It has also set up more than 3,000 trial zones across South Korea to allow people to interact with the new phones. The strong pre-orders show that consumers have moved on from the Note 7 debacle.

Separately, Korean site Hankyung reports that Samsung had received 550,000 pre-orders in the first two days in South Korea alone. By comparison, last year’s Galaxy Note 7 had received only 200,000 pre-orders, and the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge had garnered 100,000 orders in the same period. It means the Galaxy S8 pre-orders were 5.5 times higher than the Galaxy S7. Pre-orders close on April 17th. Hankyung said the 128GB Galaxy S8 Plus was the most popular version in Korea.

Strong sales of the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus would help the Korean company post all-time record profits in the second quarter this year. IBK Invest & Securities said in a research note that Samsung’s Q2 operating profits could reach 12.1 trillion Korean won, beating the Q3 2013 record of 10.1 trillion won.