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article imageSamsung stops people remapping the Bixby button on the Galaxy S8

By James Walker     Apr 18, 2017 in Technology
Samsung has put an end to Galaxy S8 customers remapping the handset's Bixby button to a function of their choice. The company has released an update that disables the existing unofficial workaround, leaving many owners with a useless button.
Samsung is betting big on Bixby, its new digital assistant intended to be a headline feature of the Galaxy S8. In an attempt to get people using the AI, Samsung's Galaxy S8 comes with a dedicated Bixby button on the side. There's no way to disable or change its function.
Naturally, enterprising Android users quickly figured out a way to bypass this limitation and customise the button. In a new firmware update, Samsung has blocked the workaround though, again forcing people to use the physical control for its original purpose. The company confirmed it currently has no plans to let users choose what the button does.
The decision is unusual and has met with criticism from customers. While Samsung understandably wants users to give Bixby a try, preventing those who aren't using it from reassigning the button doesn't help the company. Users who have opted not to use Bixby are left with a redundant hardware key that could be put to another use.
Since the Galaxy S8's launch, apps have been developed to enable the customisation of the Bixby key. They all function by listening to signals created by Android when a key is pressed. By intercepting Bixby key presses, the apps can perform an action of the user's choice. If the signal is then destroyed, the original recipient – the Bixby app – will never know it occurred, so Bixby doesn't launch.
It's this behaviour Samsung has changed. It has managed to stop the key from sending event messages that can be detected and intercepted by other apps. The keypress events were previously handled by Android's accessibility services. Samsung now prevents this module from detecting the Bixby key.
Samsung described the workaround as "exploiting a system-level behavior." In reality, it's a common technique that's used in many other button remapping apps for a variety of devices. The update is being delivered using Samsung's routine over-the-air patching system. It remains to be seen whether community members will be able to develop a new method to remap the button.
Samsung's stance on the Bixby key is strange and seemingly positioned against its users. After adorning the S8 with a hardware key many already believe to be redundant, the company is forcing users to keep Bixby enabled or waste the button entirely. This is despite Bixby being behind schedule and currently lacking its critical voice input functionality in English-speaking regions.
Samsung could enable open remapping of the key if it chose, potentially making the S8 more attractive to hardware enthusiasts. Many power users could benefit from a button to assign to an action of their choosing, making the Bixby key itself a possible selling point for the S8. Instead, it's being strictly tied down to Samsung's fledging AI, yet to make a full appearance.
More about Samsung, galaxy s8, Smartphones, Mobile, Bixby
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