In my quest to get the voice industry closer to average Joe and everyone else interested in voice technology, I’ve taken on a task explaining one hugely important aspect of voice assistants – their versions of apps, so to speak.
I’ve previously discussed Alexa Skills and Google Assistant Actions – voice apps that expand and customize the functionalities of Amazon and Google’s smart assistants by adding new capabilities.
Keeping up with the trends, Apple and Samsung have developed their own versions of such applets. They’re called Siri Shortcuts and Bixby Capsules and they have quite a few perks of their own. Here’s what you’ll need to know.
So what are Siri Shortcuts and how can you use them?
Introduced with iOS12, this feature aims to make Apple’s voice assistant more intelligent and convenient. Previously known as Workflow, Siri Shortcuts have expanded the usefulness of Siri-powered devices and simplified various complex tasks that would otherwise require more steps to perform.
Thanks to Shortcuts, a set of iOS actions can now be grouped together and triggered using custom voice commands, saving you some valuable time.
Siri can learn your routines across your apps, which allows it to suggest shortcuts for an easier way to perform common tasks on the Lock Screen or in Search. You can use a Siri Suggestion by tapping it on the Lock screen or swiping down from the center of the screen to show Search and then tapping the Siri Suggestion.
Adding shortcuts is easy. Just find the Add to Siri button in your apps and tap to add with your own personal phrase. You can also go to Settings to find all Shortcuts available on your iOS device. Sometimes you will need to open the app and perform the action before it appears in the suggested list of Shortcuts.
To run a Shortcut, just say your custom phrase on your Apple device. A Shortcut can be simple or run in sequence, like asking Siri to tell you the weather forecast, check the traffic, and map out the fastest route to your home.
In addition to working with the majority of built-in iOS apps, support for Shortcuts has already been developed by a number of third-party app publishers.
Don’t know where to start? Try an Apple community-made ShortcutsGallery that holds a range of pre-built shortcuts you’ll find useful. Some of the useful Shortcuts include Keep Me Alive, a power-saving option that turns off everything on your device until you can charge it, Remind Me at Work that sets reminders to automatically trigger when you arrive at a specific location (it doesn’t even have to be your workplace), and Share Wi-Fi, which creates a QR code for the person you want to share your Wi-Fi connection with, without them needing to know your password.
Now, here’s the gist of Bixby Capsules
Developed by Samsung, Bixby is an open AI platform providing developers with tools and AI features accessible to the company’s own team. It is currently available on millions of Samsung mobile devices, with plans for it to become accessible across the entire Samsung device ecosystem (televisions, home appliances, wearables, etc).
A little bit of history is needed to fully understand Bixby. Upon its launch in 2017, the Bixby ecosystem consisted of Bixby Voice, Bixby Vision, and Bixby Home. Bixby Voice, as you might have guessed, was the usual voice assistant; Bixby Vision was used for augmenting reality, translating text, scanning QR codes, recognizing products and landmarks; while Bixby Home provided a timeline with news, weather forecasts, fitness activities, and controls for smart home devices.
However, in late 2018, Samsung announced its vision to connect and AI-enable all of its devices, including smart speakers, TVs, washing machines, and refrigerators. The company has also decided to open the platform to third-party developers, hoping to add to its growth.
As a result, Bixby now allows developers to create Bixby Capsules, Samsung’s version of voice apps. By creating Bixby Capsules, developers “teach” Bixby the concepts and actions their services can perform. Every one of these Capsules holds everything Bixby needs to know, ranging from defining models and use cases to layouts and dialogs.
In an effort to keep up in the race against Amazon, Google, and Apple, Samsung has decided to open the Bixby Marketplace, where users (only in the U.S and South Korea for now) can browse these Bixby Capsules and discover the added functionalities of the voice assistant. Just like their industry counterparts, Capsules are divided into categories such as productivity, business and finance, games, sports, shopping, etc.
To access the Bixby Marketplace, launch the Bixby main page by pressing the Bixby key and swipe left to open the Bixby Marketplace. You can browse through it using capsule name, developer, or keyword. There are also user reviews and staff picks that will help you pick the most suitable capsule. You can then add it with a single tap on a button.
For Samsung, it is all about customization, which is why Bixby learns your patterns in order to help you get things done in a faster and more convenient manner. Users can even set a preferred Capsule for certain types of requests.
For instance, if you want a ride to a specific venue, you will have the option to pick one of the supported rideshare Capsules and then set it as your favorite. This means that in the future this capsule will automatically be assigned to this type of user request, without even needing to mention the name of the Capsule.
There are already Capsules for Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube, Spotify, Audioburst, NPR, Yelp, and more, that bring the functionalities of said apps to Bixby-enabled devices.
There are subtle differences between the two
Immediately, there is one thing that can be deduced. Siri Shortcuts are arguably closer to Alexa routines than Skills, while Samsung took a more developer-heavy approach which is more in line with Skills and Actions.
Still, I’ll use once more the ‘two sides of the same coin’ analogy and say that the end product is the same: more functional and cross-device smart assistants. Both Siri Shortcuts and Bixby Capsules simplify the user experience by offering better functionality and more convenience.
In the end, that’s what it’s all about. This is an amazing time to be alive – the era of voice assistants where they are handling most of our interactions. Large tech companies are racing against each other to develop a faster, smarter, and more integrated product. In this everlasting competition, the frontrunner’s work is never over and these companies are aware of it.
Whether your choice is Google, Amazon, Apple, or Samsung, they are all continuously offering more options for us to interact with their products. In large part, these efforts currently revolve around voice apps that allow us to further personalize our experience. Which one of these platforms will come out as a winner is not important. Together, they are enhancing the experience for all of us, and that is the most important notion here.