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Sriram Thodla, senior director of services and new business at Samsung, talks about Bixby at the Samsung Galaxy S8 launch in 2017. Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

While Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant are aimed at providing a voice assistant for a wide array of duties, Samsung's Bixby is designed to be a more effective way to do the task at hand, whether that is setting up a TV or navigating the apps on a modern smartphone.

My thought bubble: I'm not saying that Samsung will be successful with its Bixby voice assistant. In fact, I believe it faces a steep uphill battle. But as electronics get ever more complex, a voice interface can be significantly more efficient than menus or buttons.

The logic: Swiping and tapping made sense for a lot of early phones, just as a numeric remote worked for TVs. But today's uses are a lot more complicated.

  • On the TV, for example, you aren't choosing from 5 or ten channels, but from hundreds, not to mention streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.
  • Similarly, there are many phone tasks that could be simplified by saying what it is you want to do, rather than having to sort through various menus.

The challenge: Much as it wishes it were otherwise, Samsung's history in software and services is filled with far more misses than successes.

Samsung's take: I spoke with Samsung North America CEO Tim Baxter at CES about the effort to expand Bixby into more than Samsung's high-end phones. Here's what he had to say:

  • Half the people who have Bixby on their device have used it at least once.
  • Monthly active users of Bixby are increasing. "We’re feeling good about the progress, so good that we made the decision to include Bixby in our televisions and our appliances."
  • Samsung sees Bixby as the next user interface, after touch and typing, to make use of ever more complex devices. "We are doubling down on Bixby. ... Will it be easy? No. But we're up for the challenge."
  • Samsung might expand Bixby into new categories of devices, like a rumored speaker, but Baxter says the focus is on incorporating Bixby into its existing categories — TVs, appliances, phones and cars (via its Harman acquisition). "We think that’s the sweet spot for us. That will open up other opportunities."

Next up: Samsung on Wednesday invited reporters to a Feb. 25 event where it is expected to launch its Samsung Galaxy S9. That's likely to be the next chapter in the Bixby story, with new capabilities from Samsung and partners.

Go deeper

UN poll: Most see climate change as global emergency amid pandemic

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg (C) fronts a Fridays For Future protest at the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm in September. Photo: Jonathan Nacksrtrand/AFP via Getty Images

64% of people from around the world say climate change is a global emergency, a United Nations poll published Wednesday finds.

Why it matters: It's biggest global survey on climate change ever conducted, with some 1.2 million participants from 50 countries — including the U.S. where 65% of those surveyed view climate change as an emergency.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.