Samsung Bixby Smart Speaker: what we want to see

Smart speakers are no longer just being made by Amazon, Google and Apple. These days most of the big technology brands we all know and love are making a play for a chunk of the smart speaker market. That’s why it’s no surprise that a Samsung smart speaker is expected very soon.

The long-awaited Samsung Bixby Smart Speaker hasn’t got an official release date yet, but according to details released at MWC 2018 earlier this year, it’ll launch in the second half of 2018. Now industry insiders are pointing to a release at Samsung’s Unpacked event on August 9, 2018, and that’s been all but confirmed. 

This is great news for Samsung fans, particularly those who have already bought into Samsung’s SmartThings ecosystem, which this speaker will presumably connect with and allow you to control with your voice.

A photo of the Apple HomePod

The Apple HomePod is one of our favorite smart speakers on the market right now and is arguably the best for audio performance.

Although it’ll go head-to-head with established names in the smart speaker market, like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod devices, we’re hoping to see some unique features from Samsung’s first foray into the speaker market. 

But the problem is, we know very little about the speaker to date other than it’ll have Bixby built-in, which is Samsung’s proprietary smart assistant that works like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Other than that there have been relatively few rumors and leaks. GSM Arena also reports that it might be called Magbee and code-named Vega or Lux, if a recent patent is anything to go by. But we’re all just guessing at this stage.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top rumors, features we’ve got our fingers crossed for and a few unlikely, but awesome, additions we’re adding to our wishlists. 

Smart facial recognition

According to a patent filed by Samsung back in 2017, the upcoming speaker could be packing facial recognition smarts. 

The patent details a speaker that’s equipped with a camera. It looks like the point of this is to better recognise who’s speaking. It can distinguish voices, and to help it do that, it can distinguish faces too. 

We presume the thinking behind this decision would be that it’ll make it even easier to identify individual family members so that it can tailor any requests appropriately based on what it already knows about you. 

An affordable (kinda) price tag

A report from Bloomberg back in 2017 revealed that the Samsung Bixby speaker could undercut the price of some of the most popular speakers on the market. 

The exact price hasn’t been confirmed yet. But the report stated that Samsung plans on undercutting the Apple HomePod by around $150 (about £100/AU$200). This suggests it could come in at about $200. 

But it’s important to point out that a $200 price tag would still make it more expensive than the Amazon Echo, which currently sits at $79. 

A photo of the Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo currently retails at $99.99 (£89.99/$149AUS).

Although the higher price might be justified by its features, and point to the brand targeting an audience interested in a higher-end speaker, it’s still not the most expensive option on the market – a middle-of-the-road option maybe?

This is also interesting because back in 2017 Samsung revealed details of Project Ambience, a smart speaker prototype on the smaller size that was tipped to compete with the likes of the Google Home Mini. It looks like that’s not what the new Bixby offering will be. But there could be a range of pricing tiers and sizes, which would explain how Project Ambience fits. 

A super bright OLED display

The same patent that got the tech rumor mill speculating about facial recognition also detailed the potential of a display on the upcoming speaker. 

It could be an LED, LCD or OLED display with touch functionality, which could be used to display messages and images. As we pointed out with our Spotify smart speaker wishlist, it could also be a cool way of displaying album artwork, but maybe it’s best to leave that to Spotify. 

We’d prefer an OLED display because it has emissive pixels. A display on a smart speaker could all-but disappear behind a black surface when not lit with OLED tech. And if the display doesn’t look good, it shouldn’t be there. 

An image from a patent filed by samsung that details a rotating design

This patent filed by Samsung shows a smart speaker that rotates based on the direction of voices. Credit: LetsGoDigital

A cool rotating design

Plenty of smart home speakers are packed with motion sensors that focus on areas where movement is detected. But it’s a feature that we haven’t seen from the big name smart speaker brands just yet. 

According to the same 2017 Samsung patent that details facial recognition and a display, the new speaker could have a cylindrical design that rotates in order to better detect voices. It looks like this will allow the speaker to better hear and recognise different voices and detect commands.

But don’t get too excited. This rotating shape is in direct conflict to other reports from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, which suggest the Bixby speaker could be bowl-shaped with legs, making it more difficult to twist and turn. 

Support for media casting

Just like Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s Cast on Google Home, the Bixby speaker could support media casting. 

It’s not much of a leap given that Samsung’s Smart View app for iOS and Android lets you beam content from providers like Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and Hulu and any local media on your phone.

A photo of the Google Home

You can set up multi-room audio with the Google Home.

Multi-room music streaming

Just like Google Home, it’d be great to see Bixby offer multi-room music streaming. This will provide users with a way to play audio on multiple speakers at the same time in multiple rooms. 

Multi-room music streaming would work best if it also came with the functionality to control volumes in each room independently using volume controls for each separate speaker. 

Music direction smarts

Another feature that’s reportedly being introduced by Samsung is the ability to change the direction of the music that the speaker is playing. 

Sam Mobile reports that users might be able to specify whether sound plays to the right or to the left. There are also rumors of a method of automatically detecting where people are in the room and the speaker will then pump its music out accordingly.