The launch of Samsung's voice assistant Bixby is already a total shambles

Samsung’s biggest fans in the UK have put in their pre-orders for the new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ to get their new phones by April 20, eight days before it officially goes on sale.

But the new phones won’t be fully functional. One of Samsung’s most hyped up features — voice assistant Bixby — won’t be working properly.

Samsung released a press statement on Tuesday night stating that Bixby won’t be voice activated until “later this spring.”

That applies anywhere the S8 is on sale, including the US and UK. So if you buy a new S8 now, you might be waiting a couple of months on Bixby’s most exciting feature.

Some aspects of the smart assistant will launch with the S8. There’ll be features like Bixby Vision, in-camera object recognition; Bixby Home, Google Now-like information cards; and Bixby Reminder, which lets you set up reminders. In the absence of voice commands, the S8 has a dedicated sidebar button where you can activate Bixby.

Samsung’s communication about Bixby has been shambolic.

First, the company demoed incomplete software to reporters ahead of the S8 launch, promising it would be ready by the time the phones shipped. Then it said voice activation would only work in the US and Korea. Now it’s saying voice activation won’t work at all.

Here’s why Samsung’s poor communication about Bixby matters:

Samsung needed a smooth Galaxy S8 launch after the Note 7 fiasco

The Galaxy S8 is Samsung’s flagship phone, and this is the first chance the company’s had to repair its reputation after the exploding Galaxy Note 7 fiasco.

Apart from that, the competition is particularly stiff too. It’s the 10th anniversary of Apple’s iPhone this year. The next iPhone is due in the autumn, and rumours suggest Apple will pull out all the stops for its anniversary device.

So it’s a big year for Samsung to get things right with the S8.

Bixby can be a big strategic play against Google

Apple, Google, and Amazon all have fully fledged voice assistants now. For Samsung, the most important player here is Google.

Google has been particularly aggressive about its new Google Assistant. It cut out Android partners, like Samsung, when it chose to release Google Assistant first to its own-brand Pixel phone. The voice assistant is only just starting to become more widely available.

Samsung is hugely reliant on Google, because its smartphones run on Android. If Google can make important decisions like keeping its voice assistant off Samsung devices, then why wouldn’t Samsung fight back?

Enter Bixby. Not only would an own-brand voice assistant give Samsung some insurance against Google, Samsung might bring the software to a bunch of its other hardware, like TVs and smart appliances.

Samsung has said as much, describing Bixby as an “interface for your life.”

There’s no excuse for half-baked software now

Voice assistants aren’t new. Siri launched on the iPhone 4S in 2011. If Samsung was launching something really innovative that we had never seen before, showing off half-baked software might be forgivable.

But there’s the double whammy of Samsung being late to voice assistants, and messing up the rollout when people already know and understand what voice assistants are. It’s like responding to the starting gun five seconds after everyone else and then tripping up on the track.

It’s even more astonishing is that Samsung reportedly decided to launch the voice assistant without integrating Viv’s technology, the startup created by Siri’s founders. Samsung bought Viv in October last year.

These could be teething problems, and first impressions for the Galaxy S8 are generally positive. It’s just amazing that a £200 billion company could mess up its flagship launch to this extent.

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