Original (7/10): Samsung launched its Bixby digital assistant software in an unfinished state. That’s not just our opinion — Samsung confirmed that the voice portion of the software wouldn’t be ready in time for its US launch. Naturally, some in the Android community thought Bixby’s dedicated launcher button, located on the side of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Edge, could be put to better use, so they found a way to remap it.
For a while, this meant the Bixby button could be assigned to a much more useful function, like accessing your favorite wallpaper app, for example. Samsung since but the kibosh on that in an OTA update, restricting that app to the Bixby function that many didn’t want.
Devs responded again to bring remapping back to the device for some weeks before news landed yesterday that an update for T-Mobile customers in the US had once again restricted it. This means anyone with the latest T-Mobile OTA can’t make use of previous workarounds for the Bixby software, such as utilizing the bxActions app, though non-T-Mobile subscribers with the June security updates reportedly still can.
But it’s not all bad news, as the bxActions developer Jawomo, who informed us of this news, said that it’s already investigating the matter and seeking a new solution.
Same old story
These kinds of stories aren’t uncommon in the world of technology, whether it’s publishers shutting down third-party mod development for games, or software companies restricting the use of certain apps or services on competing platforms. The problem is, this doesn’t address the underlying issue — Bixby isn’t very good.
I can see why Samsung would be keen to force us to use Bixby in the hope we’ll fall in love with it and forever be tied to its platform, or mine it for data that they can use to improve its services (I don’t know what Bixby data Samsung collects, but it would potentially be valuable). But those users who are seeking ways to avoid Bixby are not going to want to use it just because Samsung has prevented remapping — they can still use Bixby via voice activation even if they remap the button anyway. If a person has searched for an alternative, it’s because they’re unimpressed with what it does in its default state, and limiting the scope for customization doesn’t change that.
The whole ordeal underscores how out of touch Samsung is: community development for its products is a good thing even if it snipes Samsung features. If devs can improve what the device can offer, the Galaxy S8 will look good by proxy, and it could lead to more device sales. There have been many modifications in the video game world that have lead to people picking up a copy of a particular title, like the original Dota, which began as a Warcraft 3 mod, or DayZ, which began as an ARMA 2 mod.
Meanwhile, smart Android manufacturers are already embracing great ideas from third-party devs for new phones/software each year, while Samsung quashes its own phone’s potential to spearhead a breakthrough new feature.
We reached out to Samsung for this piece asking why it had restricted users from remapping the Bixby button and received the following statement:
The dedicated Bixby button gives consumers an easy, and convenient way to launch Bixby – just like using a walkie talkie. We think it’s important to consumers this option in case they prefer it to using a wakeup word. Bixby has been designed to seamlessly work with our hardware so that you can easily switch from physical to voice control whenever you wish. To provide this ideal experience, the Bixby button will only work with Bixby, so Samsung does not support remapping the Bixby button.
So then, Samsung wishes to stop people changing the Bixby button’s function to ensure they receive the “ideal” Bixby experience — something which would only make sense if people weren’t working so hard to repeatedly find ways around that.
Of course, Samsung isn’t under any obligation to allow people to manipulate its hardware/software, but if it was concerned with getting more people using Bixby — as I suspect it is — this is the worst way to do it. Either come up with a reason for users to want to use Bixby naturally or let people change the friggin button: otherwise, you’re just going to frustrate them.
What’s your take on Samsung’s approach to Bixby? Should S8 owners be allowed to remap the button? Give us your thoughts in the comments.
Thanks for the tip, Jawomo!