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Samsung, it’s time for the Side Key and Google Assistant to work together

Opinion
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Last updated: March 22nd, 2022 at 17:18 UTC+01:00

Samsung and Google feel closer than ever as the two companies continue to join forces and find common ground in software solutions. The Korean tech giant abandoned Tizen for smartwatches in favor of helping Google develop Wear OS 3, and it’s using it for the Galaxy Watch 4 series. Samsung’s foldables offer an improved software experience — in part thanks to underlying changes in Android OS — and TVs offer Google Assistant integration.

Despite this, Samsung appears to be doing everything in its power to keep Google Assistant away from its smartphone customers. Every major Android firmware update released for the past few years has crippled every attempt at linking the Side Key with Google Assistant, and we think this practice has to stop.

Samsung added support for Google Assistant to its smart TVs a couple of years ago. The company is now working with Google to integrate the voice-controlled assistant with the Galaxy Watch 4 series, though progress appears to be slow. Regardless, it’s a step in the right direction, i.e., giving wearable device customers more choices as to which virtual assistants they can use as default.

Galaxy smartphone and tablet customers aren’t so lucky, though. Samsung has tied the Side Key with its Bixby Assistant years ago, and it took a lot of persuasion from fans in order for the company to make the side key remappable to the power off menu and other functions. Unfortunately, Samsung still doesn’t allow smartphone and tablet users to assign the Side Key to a different virtual assistant like Google’s.

Third-party solutions to this Side Key problem exist, though they usually require root access. Rootless solutions for assigning the side key to Google Assistant also appear and reappear after each major Android OS upgrade, but they’re clunky, temporary, or hidden behind paywalls.

We wish Samsung would simplify things for everyone and finally open the Side Key on Galaxy smartphones and tablets to other assistants. Now’s the time, especially since Google Assistant is on its way to the Galaxy Watch 4 series. And although it’s understandable why Samsung wants to push Bixby to the forefront as the default assistant on its phones and tablets, the company has done this for a few years now, and it must consider giving customers more choices.

Here’s hoping that Samsung will stop holding the Side Key hostage to Bixby this year. It’s not too late to add this feature to the next version of One UI for Android 13 and please millions of customers.

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