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Samsung blocked remapping of Galaxy S8 Bixby button; a new app restores it

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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Why it matters to you

The battle over the button dedicated to the Galaxy S8's virtual assistant rages on, and although this particular app has thwarted Samsung's efforts for now, the company could easily render it useless with another update.

Just days after Samsung confirmed it released an update to block the remapping of the Bixby button on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, a developer has already found a workaround. It’s called BixRemap, and although the description says it’s a proof of concept in its current state, it does accomplish what it sets out to do: allow users call up any app with a press of the phone’s dedicated assistant button.

The hack comes to us from developer Dave Bennett, and was reportedly built in 20 minutes. The current solution isn’t perfect — the app lives in the notification tray after startup, and when the button is pressed, Bixby still opens before the user is redirected to whatever app they’ve chosen. However, it does prove that Samsung’s methods aren’t foolproof, and that we’ll likely see this back-and-forth battle between the company and development community continue for quite some time. BixRemap is currently free, and Bennett notes he may continue to develop it down the line if interest persists.

This is just the latest episode in a saga that began days before the Galaxy S8’s April 21 launch. Samsung recently pushed an over-the-air update to Galaxy S8 users that prevented many of the remapping apps that have existed on the Google Play Store for years from working properly on the Bixby button. The block was first discovered by XDA-Developers user Flar2.

Reddit user Homeguy123 was one of the first to discover remapping was even possible. In a short video uploaded days before the phone’s release, the user showed how to sidestep Samsung’s new virtual assistant in real time — all while under the watchful eye of a Best Buy representative. In this particular example the Bixby button was used to launch Google Search, though it could theoretically call up any app or command, including Google Assistant.

The app that made it possible is known as All in One Gestures, and based on the promotional images featuring what looks to be an original HTC One, it’s actually been kicking around the Google Play Store for quite a while. After enabling all the necessary permissions, including the app’s accessibility service, users were able add the button as a custom key and free it from Bixby’s chains. Now, that’s no longer possible.

The news of the workaround must have been unnerving for Samsung, especially considering everything the company has staked on its new virtual assistant. In March, Injong Rhee, Samsung Mobile’s head of research and development, told us at the company’s Suwon, South Korea, headquarters that he believes all devices that support Bixby should feature a dedicated key, and that phones are merely its first destination.

Samsung envisions a network of smart devices unified through Bixby. But that outcome is largely dependent on users adopting and becoming familiar with its assistant, the same way they have with Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. Being able to avoid that hinders the realization of that goal.

Article originally published in April 2017 by Adam Ismail. Christian de Looper contributed to this report. Article updated on 04-24-2017 by Adam Ismail: Added BixRemap release news.