The new Galaxy Note 10 design does away with the Bixby button. I’m going to miss it—I love the Bixby button on my Note 8. Even though I never use it for Bixby.
Say what? Allow me to explain. While Samsung certainly hopes customers will use its voice assistant Bixby, they haven’t—on Android, those who are inclined to use any voice assistant at all will use Google Assistant (also known as “Okay Google.”) No one I know uses Bixby. If it weren’t for the heavy promotion during phone set up, I dare say most Samsung owners wouldn’t even know it’s there.
But the button is hard to miss. It sits on the opposite side of the power button on my Note 8, just below the volume rocker, in an ideal position for a finger tap. (Or, indeed, to be mistaken for the power button when you’re just getting used to your new gadget.) And as phone users are wont to do, I’ve re-purposed it, with the help of this handy app in the Play Store. It’s something that’s been done by tinkering Galaxy owners since the Bixby button first appeared on the Galaxy S8.
Instead of activating Samsung’s cumbersome and questionably-useful Bixby launcher, this in-between app lets me launch any other app or use a bunch of other tools. Currently, I have mine set up like this:
- Single press: hide the navigation and notification bar for fullscreen apps
- Double press: play or pause music
- Long press: activate the LED flashlight
I got the idea from reviewing phones in Samsung’s Galaxy Active line. The super-tough Active and Rugby phones had an extra button long before the Galaxy S and Note did, and they included options like the ones I outlined above. Programming an extra button for an oft-used function isn’t a new idea in mobile design—I distinctly recall remapping the “voice note” button on my Palm Tungsten T3 to launch its RealPlayer MP3 program.
That noise you just heard was the grey hairs spreading through my beard.
I’ve come to rely so heavily on this extra button in my day-to-day smartphone use that I missed it dearly when I tried out the Pixel 3, sporting only the usual power and volume buttons. I managed to cobble together a similar set up with double- and long-presses on the volume rocker, but it wasn’t anywhere near as handy. I was happy to have it back on the Note 8.
This and other, similar apps for re-purposing the Bixby button serve as a great example of unintentional design. It’s the same thing that happened to LED camera flashes on phones: originally included to make up for tiny, dim camera apertures, the flash is now a de facto “flashlight.” (Look up in this article—you didn’t even notice that I called it the “LED flashlight” instead of the camera flash, did you?) Ditto for the front-facing camera, which has replaced a compact or hand mirror in many a purse. Who can guess what the next oddly useful quirk of phone design might turn out to be?
On the Note 10, The Bixby service can only be activated by voice, or with a long-press of the power button if you really must. Which basically means it’s on its long, slow way to the Samsung scrap heap. It’s part of a broader trend towards sleeker, simpler devices—the Note 10 also notably does away with the headphone jack, like so many other recent high-end phones. But spare a thought for the wonderful, unintentional utility of the Bixby button, and how we might be better served than we think by the features “no one wants.”