Samsung, why isn’t Bixby controlling the smart home from my Gear watch?

Samsung used CES 2018 to finally bring both its smart home and wearable ecosystems one step closer together, but I still don't think it's far enough.

Samsung is bringing SmartThings – the platform the brand bought to control smart home devices, which is already available on Android and iOS devices – to both the Gear S3 and Gear Sport watch.

It means you should be able to turn your lighting or heating on from your wrist with relatively little effort, and while that's a good upgrade it's still not the perfect solution. 

Samsung keeps going on about how great its virtual assistant Bixby is, and I want it to be the thing that lets me control my smart home from my wrist. But, for some reason, it's still not how you interact with SmartThings.

Samsung has spent the last nine months since it introduced Bixby on the Galaxy S8 telling us how the platform will be improved, and what it can do for you compared to Siri or Google Assistant, but it's still not available on some of the top Samsung products.

Samsung announced at CES this year that it wouldn't be adopting either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa for its TV range, as a lot of big name brands have done, but instead will introduce Bixby to its upcoming products.

So why isn’t Bixby ready to control my smart home from my wrist? In fact, why isn't Bixby on my wrist anyway?

The moment Samsung announced Bixby for TV at CES 2018

The moment Samsung announced Bixby for TV at CES 2018

The thing is, controlling the smart home is inherently complicated. You'll have lots of products, from a variety of different brands and all of them need to work together.

The basic SmartThings platform is suitable for that, but only from your phone.

On a device with a 5-inch or larger screen you can control a broad range of devices quickly and easily. I haven't tried SmartThings on Gear watches yet, but it's hard to see it working as well on such a small display as the Gear Sport only has a 1.2-inch screen.

So why not control it with your voice? Siri enables you to do so within the Apple HomeKit app on the Apple Watch, and that's been a key selling point. All you need to do there is press down on the crown on the Apple Watch to activate Siri and then say your command.

"Turn on my kitchen lights" and it's ready to go. There's no need to enter a SmartThings app and scroll down to the room and then the device you want to interact with.

It’s the same reason voice integration on Samsung TVs makes sense – you don't have to navigate through multiple menus via the cumbersome controls when you can just use your voice to do it quickly.

If Bixby was the way to interact with SmartThings on the Gear watches, you’d be able to tap the screen (or say a command) and ask for it to turn on the lights in the living room, and it’d be done as quickly as pressing a light switch on the wall. Instead it looks like Samsung will want me to control things via taps on the smartwatch screen.

Samsung Bixby on the Galaxy S8

Samsung Bixby on the Galaxy S8

Samsung has announced Bixby 2.0, which it plans to bring to more smart home products to expand its SmartThings platform. Bixby 2.0 is designed to help internet of things devices communicate better, but Samsung hasn't confirmed whether it will come to Gear watches.

Considering the company saw fit to announce the SmartThings platform for Gear watches without mentioning Bixby – let alone its future update – it doesn't seem to be a major focus for the company.

Bixby is a big enough deal for Samsung to place a major bet on using it within its vastly popular TV range as well as including a dedicated hardware button on the side of its most recent range of phones. 

It even looks like the company will include the Bixby button again on the Galaxy S9 when it launches later this year, so why isn't it ready for the Gear range yet?

There's still no sign of it on the watches, and this SmartThings announcement – as interesting as it may seem at first glance – shows the company doesn't intend to release a wrist-based Bixby any time soon.

If I was a dedicated Samsung user I'd want to fully embrace Bixby, especially when voice assistants on smartwatches makes so much sense. So Samsung, if you want people to embrace your voice assistant and leave Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa behind you need you to include it on your smartwatches, and soon.

  • New year, new tech – check out all our coverage of CES 2018 straight from Las Vegas, the greatest gadget show on Earth
James Peckham

James is the Editor-in-Chief at Android Police. Previously, he was Senior Phones Editor for TechRadar, and he has covered smartphones and the mobile space for the best part of a decade bringing you news on all the big announcements from top manufacturers making mobile phones and other portable gadgets. James is often testing out and reviewing the latest and greatest mobile phones, smartwatches, tablets, virtual reality headsets, fitness trackers and more. He once fell over.