[Update: Samsung Confirms] Samsung has Removed the Ability to Remap the Bixby Button on the Galaxy S8/S8+
Though the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ has yet to reach the hands of the vast majority of users, some users have gotten their models a few days early. As is typical with new smartphone releases, there are often minor OTA updates available to fix some bugs that weren’t caught in the Q&A process. However, it seems that this time an OTA update is being used to rework how a certain feature on the device works – the Bixby Button. Apparently, this update is removing the ability to remap the Bixby Button. We knew this was possible, but we didn’t expect Samsung to actually go ahead and do it.
To recap, we learned that it was possible to remap the Bixby button to perform pretty much whatever action you wanted back on April 4th. This was made possible due to the fact that, when pressing the Bixby button (or any other hardware button for that matter), the system generates a key up and key down event which can be intercepted by Accessibility Services. Hence why the All in one Gestures application requires you to enable its Accessibility Service in my tutorial.
As you might guess, all Samsung would have to do to remove the ability to remap Bixby is to prevent Accessibility Services from intercepting this key event. Which, apparently, is exactly what they are now doing, at least according to XDA Recognized Developer flar2 who is the developer of Button Mapper.
Flar2 was in the process of updating his Button Mapper application to support remapping the Bixby button soon after he received his Samsung Galaxy S8 from Telus in Canada. He was able to get the application working initially, but after he downloaded the latest system update from Samsung (build version NRD90M.G950WVLU1AQD9), he discovered that his application was no longer working. It turns out that Samsung has modified the system to consume the Bixby button’s key events before it reaches the Accessibility Services, effectively making it impossible to remap the Bixby button as of now (at least without root access).
We are very disappointed in this development. We understand Samsung’s motivations in wanting to make users use the Bixby button for its intended purpose, but the many tutorials available to remap the Bixby button are simply there for those users who wanted it. If Samsung didn’t want the press to report on the fact that users are seeking the remap the Bixby button, perhaps they should work to get the feature fully working out of the box first.
Update: Samsung Representative Confirms
Philip Berne, who heads the reviews program at Samsung U.S.A, has confirmed that Samsung has indeed pulled the plug on the ability to remap the Bixby button.
— Philip Berne (@philipberne) April 17, 2017
Although Mr. Berne later states that he can’t say for sure why the behavior has changed (we think the reason is fairly obvious), we disagree with the characterization that the method used to remap the Bixby button is “exploiting a system-level behavior.” Enabling an Accessibility Service to intercept KeyEvents is a perfectly legitimate feature that many applications are built around, there is nothing involving an exploit when a user uses one of these applications.
Update 2: Carrier Specific?
A user, who wishes to remain anonymous, has DMed us on Twitter stating that his Samsung Galaxy S8 review device is still able to remap the Bixby button. Furthermore, he states that his unit is up to date.
We won’t discount the possibility that this is carrier specific, but at this time we don’t think it’s the likely answer, because the questions it raises don’t make much sense to us. For starters, why would Telus in Canada (the carrier that flar2 purchased his Galaxy S8 from) request to have this ability removed? And if what this user states is true, what do we make of the tweets by the Samsung U.S. representative?
We’re hoping we can get an official statement from Samsung or Telus to clear things up.
Many thanks to flar2 for this scoop!