Move over, Google: Samsung also wants to reinvent the phone call

Move over, Google: Samsung also wants to reinvent the phone call

Samsung downloads the page from Google Pixel playbook with your upcoming One user interface 5 software update, which will add a new way to receive calls Galaxy phones. The Bixby text call feature will bring the ability to answer a phone call by texting, with the Bixby assistant transcribing between voice and text on both ends.

The feature is initially only available in Korean, but it’s part of Samsung’s push to make multitasking easier on Galaxy devices in the future — a theme it’s been building on throughout One UI 5 to further differentiate its devices from Apple and Google. The company plans to expand to other languages, including English, next year.

Samsung isn’t alone in experimenting with ways to improve the basic phone experience. Google has unveiled a suite of new phone-centric features Pixel devices which can screen calls on your behalf, wait on hold for you and even predict waiting times when dialing toll-free numbers. Bixby Text Call is Samsung’s most prominent response yet to Google’s ambitions to modernize phone calls.

“Bixby has evolved over many years as a specialized voice control agent,” Sally Jeong, vice president and head of the Framework Research and Development Group for Samsung’s Mobile Experience Business, said through a translator. “And it requires a lot of training for Bixby to really recognize and understand voices during phone calls.”

However, Samsung’s approach is different from Google’s. Instead of Bixby taking over the phone call, it helps with your call by transcribing between voice and text in situations where it might not be appropriate to answer a phone call. It’s essentially merging text and phone calls together.

Bixby on Galaxy S10

Samsung’s Bixby, as seen here on the Galaxy S10, has had limited success compared to other virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Part of the reason the feature is only launching now, roughly five years after Bixby’s debut, is that the technology has reached the point where it can accurately understand colloquial speech. Differentiating between the speech received through the phone’s microphone and the caller on the other end is another technical challenge that Samsung had to perfect before launching this feature.

“We identified phone calls as the most efficient or useful scenario to leverage the technology,” Jeong said of how Bixby’s speech recognition has progressed. “Because as you know, we’ve all experienced the pain points of having to leave the room to take an unexpected phone call.”

When you use Bixby Text Call, you’ll be able to type a text message to answer an incoming call, which Bixby will then translate into speech for the caller on the other end. The caller will hear an automated message alerting them that the call is being answered through Bixby. After that, Bixby will translate the caller’s speech into text for the recipient. This feature works on the device, which means it is not sent to the cloud for processing, and the transcript of the conversation is stored in the Samsung Call app. The sound itself is deleted immediately after the recognition process, Samsung says.

Samsung sees an opportunity to further expand this technology in the future. Jeong said Samsung intends to eventually have a Bixby screen for unwanted calls, similar to how Google Assistant does it on Pixel phones in the US.

Bixby’s spam filtering feature could be similar to that seen on Pixel phones, which can intercept potential spam calls before they reach you.


“Spam filtering is definitely going to be one of the directions we’re going to explore in addition to using your speech to convert it to text and vice versa,” Jeong said, though she couldn’t give a timeline.

Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant launched in 2017, but it has not gained as much popularity as Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. 2020 report a survey of voice assistant adoption among American adults found that Samsung’s Bixby accounted for just 6.7% of the phone-based voice assistant market, while Siri led the way with 45.1%. In second place is Google Assistant with 29.9%, while Amazon’s Alexa won 18.3%.

But the use of Bixby has increased since 2018. That same report shows that Samsung’s market share jumped from 4.7% in 2018 to 6.7% in 2020, while Apple and Google’s segments decreased slightly.

It remains to be seen whether features like Bixby Text Call will help Samsung’s digital assistant step up against alternatives from Apple and Google. But what is clear is that Apple, Google and Samsung are using their virtual assistants in an attempt to improve the phone experience.

Google, for example, just updated its Direct My Call feature, which uses Google Assistant to transcribe automated phone menus. With Pixel 7, Google Assistant will transcribe those menus before they are spoken. Apple also added the ability for Siri to hang up hands-free and automatically send texts without confirmation in iOS 16.

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