When Samsung launched Bixby with the Galaxy S8 back in 2016, the company’s virtual assistant didn’t do much. Well, it was certainly capable enough for a newly launched virtual assistant, but Bixby’s voice functionality didn’t debut for a few months after the Galaxy S8 went on sale, and when it did, it only had support for US English. That made the dedicated Bixby key a major point of contention for many users, who wondered why their flagship phone had an extra button that didn’t offer any benefit.
It didn’t help that the Bixby key couldn’t be reassigned to launch a different app, with Samsung actively disabling third-party hacks that made remapping the button possible, nor could it be disabled completely. But perhaps the heavy-handed approach was important for Samsung. With a long press of the home button assigned to Google Now (now called Google Assistant), Samsung needed a way to make consumers aware of its own virtual assistant, and a physical key was probably the best idea.
Alas, development on Bixby hasn’t moved very quickly. Version 2.0 of Bixby turned out to be incapable of doing some basic things that were possible on Bixby 1.0, and we’re still waiting on that Bixby-powered Galaxy Home smart speaker to go on sale. Perhaps putting a Bixby button on every budget and mid-range phone in addition to flagships would have helped Samsung capture the data it needed for Bixby to evolve at a faster pace, but the Korean giant didn’t go down that route.
And somewhere down the line, Samsung decided to become pro-choice and finally introduced the option to assign the Bixby key to any app or function that the user desired. The company also devised a way to make the power button work as the Bixby key with Android Pie, removing the need for a device to have a dedicated physical button. And if the rumors and leaks are correct, the Galaxy Note 10 might not have a Bixby button, making it the first Galaxy flagship in more than two years to come with only volume and power buttons.
But should Samsung keep the Bixby key on the Galaxy Note 10? Having a separate key to launch your favorite app is very useful, similar to the Active key on Samsung’s rugged Galaxy S Active phones, but is that a big reason the Bixby key should continue to exist? You know, in addition to offering a quick shortcut to Bixby for those who like the assistant and use it regularly?