Samsung's Bixby Button And Google's Assistant Squeeze Are Different Flavours Of The Same Screw Up

Even with all the screen issues, weird buzzing noises, and unbalanced speaker performance on Google's Pixel 2, there's an even bigger issue that's been bugging me. The problem isn't restricted to just that single device -- and in fact, it actually crept up about six months ago when Samsung released the Galaxy S8.

All images: Sam Rutherford

I'm talking about Samsung's Bixby Button and Google's Active Edge -- features that are great in theory, but whose implementation has me concerned about the future of Android.

It's not the voice assistants themselves I'm concerned about. I'm worried about how both Google and Samsung locked down these features in way that makes them incredibly difficult to tweak and customise.

To me, Android has always been the mobile OS for people who want options. If you don't like phones with curvy rounded displays or how one handset maker got rid of the headphone jack on its latest device, you can always switch and find another manufacturer that will give you what you want.

And if you like to tinker around with your phone, whether it's installing a new launcher, changing out the icons on your apps, or switching the colour palette in your settings menu, you can do that too. But when Google and Samsung put dedicated control methods, regardless of whether it's an extra button or pressure sensors built into the sides of the phone and then said you can only use these to summon a fucking digital assistant, they killed a little bit of Android's spirit of freedom.

This is not what I call a lot of options.

Now it's true, there are hacks and third-party workarounds that will let you remap these controls to better suit your needs, but they are janky at best. Neither Samsung nor Google want you to do it. Samsung's handling of the issue is particularly galling because after months of outcry, they walked things back halfway by allowing you to disable the Bixby button so its digital assistant wouldn't chirp up every time you hit the button by accident.

However, Samsung still didn't go all the way. Let me assign that button to the flashlight, aeroplane mode, camera shutter or any other stupid function I want.

As for Google, HTC has already demonstrated on the U11 that letting users customise what the pressure sensors do isn't that hard. On top of that, in addition to being able to remap things like various apps or toggles for wi-fi to the pressure sensor, when you squeeze the U11 and U11+, you can also select from three different disembodied digital helpers you want to summon: Alexa, Google Assistant, and HTC's Sense Companion. That's the kind of choice we should be applauding.

If I wanted a phone maker to tell me what I'm supposed to like, I would just get an iPhone. Now don't get me wrong, I have a ton of respect for Apple's phones, especially when it comes to their cameras and the performance you get from the company's homegrown A-series processors. And from the time of the original iPhone up until the 5, Apple was my phone maker of choice. But after a while, Apple's iron-clad grip on iOS caused me to switch.

So let me be clear: Adding new ways to control your phone is great, but restricting it to a single function is not, and it flies in the face of what makes Android an attractive alternative to iOS. I just hope both Samsung and Google learn from their follies, because if things continue like this, users might just end up in an Apple-like prison called Android.

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Comments

    Yeah totally agree. When I first saw the extra button on the S8 leak I got excited and thought they'd brought back a dedicated camera button.

    Finding out it was just a digital assistant was very disappointing and finding out you couldn't change it made me not want that phone, why would I want a useless (for me) extra button sticking out of a stunning bezeless phone?!

      I have an app that can remap the button. Currently single press turns silent on/off, double press turns on the torch, and a long press brings up Google Assistant.

      Agreed.

      I've remapped it but i'm quite annoyed by this superfluous button.
      I can only hope they either allow users to remap OOTB or remove out entirely.

      Despite the fact Apple has Siri, kudos for not dedicating a button to it.
      The fact they are super conscious with their aesthetics probably heavily contributed to the notion of long-pressing the home button instead.

    Only difference is that Bixby is awful while Google Assistant is useful.

    As per the Pixel 2 launch event, Google's focus is clearly A-I. So they're going to do everything they can to make it easier/less embarrassing to use Assistant, which is why you can now use "Hey Google" on phones too.
    Samsung's focus has clearly always been trying to replace all of Google's functions with crappier versions of their own...

    To me, Android has always been the mobile OS for people who want options.

    As long as that option is Google.

    Android is every bit as closed as iOS. Try getting an Android phone without google apps.
    It doesn’t exist.

      So what if it has Google apps? Just don't use them. At least on Android I can change the dialer or SMS app or whatever - can't do that on iOS. That said I've never felt the need to change most of the defaults on iOS, so maybe Samsung just makes shitty apps.

      The Amazon Fire phone was one, and it was a complete failure

      You say that like it's a bad thing!

      Sadly it's not true, I wish all Android phones came with Google Apps preloaded though.

      Tip for the future, you should try using an android phone before saying gibberish like "Android is every bit as closed as iOS", it makes you sound like you work for apple's marketing department!

      Disabling the Google Services app removes all of the services i think.
      Then you can disable each one like Play music, games, calendar.

      You aren't forced to use them, they just come for ease of access as 99% of people probably do.

    Samsung's handling of the issue is particularly galling because after months of outcry, they walked things back halfway by allowing you to disable the Bixby button so its digital assistant wouldn't chirp up every time you hit the button by accident.

    Even worse you can't do this without accepting the atrocious terms and conditions first. They absolutely should have the "turn off" option right on the same page. Add an option "no I don't accept the terms and conditions, turn off bixby".

    I've liked HTC for awhile. My first Android phone was a HTC Desire HD and it was great. It's just a pity that their more recent handsets have been lacking in one way or another.

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