Along with a plethora of news surrounding today’s Samsung Unpacked 2019 event, the company has reportedly confirmed that the Bixby hardware key on its Galaxy S10 lineup will be reassignable to whatever app a user wants right out of the box. That means that users will no longer need to rely on shady third-party applications or other rigmarole to use the previously-dedicated physical button for launching Google Assistant, Amazon's Alexa, or something as mundane as activating the device's flashlight.
As is usually the case with the Bixby key, that will be assignable to either a double-press or single press of the button but there is a catch for those who may have hoped to avoid Bixby altogether. Namely, whichever action isn't assigned to a secondary application will still open Bixby.
So users who don't particularly like Bixby will probably want to assign the third-party app to a single press but will almost certainly still accidentally open the AI via a double-press periodically. A long-press of the Bixby hardware button will still open the assistant as well.
A new feature to accompany new languages
News about the change in direction for the Bixby button on Samsung’s four new devices -- the Galaxy S10e, Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10+, and Galaxy S10 5G -- comes alongside another announcement that may make the change somewhat less impactful. That's because Samsung also took the opportunity presented by the event to reveal official global support for four new languages for its AI assistant.
For a percentage of users, the aversion to Bixby in favor of Google's Assistant or Amazon's Alexa could arguably have stemmed from difficulties related to its limited support for their native language. With the addition of British English, German, Italian and Spanish (Spain), the OEM has brought the total number of languages supported to seven. That could make using or at least trying out the built-in feature more attractive for a wider range of users.
The new languages are being made available outside of the new lineup of devices too. As long as a given Samsung flagship is running the latest iteration of Google's mobile OS, Android 9 Pie, those can now be used. That applies to Samsung's Galaxy Note 9, Galaxy S9, Galaxy S9+, Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S8, and Galaxy S8+ handsets that have been updated to the most recent build.
Prior to the change, Bixby was only usable in US English, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese.
Samsung also has a Bixby-powered speaker initially unveiled in 2018 and reportedly set to arrive in April. The company hasn't confirmed that just yet but the speaker should help spread the use of its assistant even more widely.
Good but probably not coming universally
There is at least one relatively big drawback to the news, regardless of whether the addition of customization for the dedicated Bixby button is viewed with indifference or relief. For the time being, the added functionality will only be available via Samsung's new Galaxy S10 family of devices.
The manufacturer may eventually open up the Bixby button on older handsets with a software update but there's no guarantee that will ever happen. So those who want to remap the key are probably going to need to upgrade to the latest handsets to make that happen.