Samsung’s Galaxy phones will soon let you answer calls without having to speak


Samsung takes a page out of the Google Pixel Playbook with his forthcoming A user interface 5 Software update that adds a new way to answer calls Galaxy phones without needing your voice. The Bixby text call feature offers the ability to answer a phone call via SMS, 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 effort to make multitasking on Galaxy devices easier going forward – a theme it’s borrowing from in One UI 5 to further differentiate its devices from Apple’s and Google take off. The company plans to expand into other languages, including English, over the next year.

Samsung isn’t the only one experimenting with ways to improve the basic phone experience. Google has rolled out a number of new phone-centric features Pixel Devices that can screen calls on your behalf, wait for you, and even predict wait times when dialing toll-free numbers. Bixby Text Call is Samsung’s most prominent response to Google’s ambitions to modernize phone calls yet.

“Bixby has evolved over many years into a specialized voice control agent,” said Sally Jeong, vice president and head of the framework research and development group for Samsung’s mobile experience business, via a translator. “And it takes a lot of training for Bixby to actually identify and understand voices on phone calls.”

However, Samsung’s approach differs from Google’s. Instead of letting Bixby take over a phone call, it assists you on your call by transcribing between speech and text in situations where it may not be appropriate to take a call. It’s essentially a mix of texting and phone calls.

Bixby on the 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 this feature is only rolling out now, some five years after Bixby’s debut, is because the technology has reached a point where it can understand colloquialisms accurately. Distinguishing between the voice received through the phone’s microphone and the caller on the other end is another technical challenge that Samsung had to perfect before introducing this feature.

“We identified phone calls as the most effective or useful scenario for using the technology,” Jeong said in reference to Bixby’s speech recognition advances. “Because as you know, we’ve all experienced the pain points of having to leave the room to take an unexpected call.”

When using Bixby Text Call, you can type a text message to answer an incoming call, which Bixby then translates into speech for the caller on the other end. The caller will hear an automated message advising them that the call will be answered through Bixby. After that, Bixby translates the caller’s speech into text for the recipient. The feature works on-device, meaning it’s not sent to the cloud for processing, and the transcript of the call is stored in the Samsung Calls app. The audio itself is deleted right after the detection process, Samsung says.

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

The Bixby spam filter feature could be similar to that of Pixel phones, which can catch potential spam calls before they reach you.

Google

“Filtering spam calls will definitely be a direction we’ll explore, in addition to using your voice to turn it into text and vice versa,” Jeong said, though she couldn’t give a timeline.

Samsung’s voice assistant Bixby launched in 2017, but it hasn’t garnered as much traction as Apple’s Siri, the Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa. A 2020 report by Voicebot.ai examining voice assistant adoption among US adults found that Samsung’s Bixby accounts for just 6.7% of the phone-based voice assistant market, while Siri leads the way with 45.1% stands. Google Assistant took second place with 29.9%, while Amazon’s Alexa claimed 18.3%.

But Bixby usage has increased since 2018. The same report shows that Samsung’s market share has increased from 4.7% in 2018 to 6.7% in 2020, while Apple’s and Google’s respective shares have shrunk slightly.

It remains to be seen whether features such as Bixby Text Call will help Samsung’s digital assistants get up to speed with alternatives from Apple and Google. What is clear, however, is that Apple, Google and Samsung are using their virtual assistants 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 the Pixel7, Google Assistant transcribes these menus before speaking them. Apple also added the ability for Siri to hang up a call hands-free and automatically send texts without requiring confirmation in iOS 16.


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