Designing a better Windows Phone search button

We've heard our fair share of complaints about the capacitive buttons found on many Windows Phones, specifically that it's easy to accidentally touch one, throwing the user into a Bing search screen and usually killing whatever task was on hand. Samsung has tried to address this on the Focus with a firmware update--basically if you're actively touching the screen and you drag your finger, touching one of the capacitive buttons won't engage them.

Long Zheng of ChevronWP7 and Speedo Plus fame, has posted an ingenious method on his blog iStartedSomething that resembles "...the tap-and-hold gesture found on the desktop version of Windows" and for us, reminds us greatly of the Xbox Kinect's selection/confirmation method.

Zheng's method involves holding down the Search button, whereby a search icon overlays on the screen. While holding the button, you wait 1.5 seconds for the circle to complete its animation thereby launches Bing. If the user takes their finger off before the animation is complete, nothing happens. Zheng correctly notes that this will add a nice buffer between the user and the device, insuring less accidental hits. One could also imagine this as an option under Settings, much like Search button via Lock Screen in Mango.

We think it's a pretty brilliant idea that can be easily implemented on current devices. You folks?

Source: iStartedSomething


Reader comments

Designing a better Windows Phone search button


Yes but as the cynics would say current devices havent sold anyway, I know that aint true mind.Sad thing is I dont think manufacturers will add hardware buttons back, its cheaper for them to provide capaciative and it annoys me no end.Microsoft should make them a requirement! WPCentral should start a campaign ;)

I find I hit Search way more than back. It is the most annoying problem with WP7 so I sure hope it gets addressed. I quit playing Ilomilo over it because I only had about 50% chance of getting through a hard level wihtout hitting the damn search button and Ilomilo would start the level at the beginning after that.

That's one of the top reasons why I bought a LG Optimus 7 and no other Windows Phone. I always prefer some hardware buttons over touch screen buttons, I even would appriciate if there was a hardware button for accepting a call. I miss a lot of calls because it takes to long to get the phone out of the bag, unlock the lock screen and then hitting that small "accept" button. In fact, it would be so much better if unlocking the screen accepts the incoming call. But that's another point... back to topic :)

I had the same experience on the Galaxy S I used. I kept touching the back button and it annoyed me all the time. I like the physical buttons on the Optimus 7. I wish there were more choices, so far the Optimus 7 is the only one if you want physical buttons.

fluxx, you shouldn't have to unlock the screen to accept a call. Just slide up and hit accept. No unlock necessary.

hi! sorry, that's what i meant. get the handy out of the bag, slide up, hit accept - it all takes some time. i would prefer at least an option, where sliding up accepts the call right away or where a call overgoes the lock screen. and for the gui: make the accept button: BIG. GREEN. or at least insert a tiny little green phone symbol. don't know why - i use my windows phone every day for months now but still get confused by the call screen.

When I had a HD7, it drove me absolutely mental. But as fluxx mentioned, the hard search button on the Optimus 7 is miles better. There's no substitute for physical buttons imho.That said, Long Zheng's solution is getting there, but perhaps not even bother displaying anything? Just increase the time for which the button needs to be pressed (ie. to that 1.5 seconds)

No, it isn't a good idea. It would make the Search button nasty to use.CONTER-PROPOSAL:=================The search button triggered in an app open a "Search Popup" on the top of the screen you can dismiss by swiping it right or start typing by clicking on the popup. If you don't dismiss it, it automatically disappear in a 5 second timespan.Pressing the search button for more than 1.5 second should trigger the current action (directly open the Bing app) or, better, trigger an action which allow you to select any registered "search" app or "OpenSearch" provider like the SearchBox of IE8 and 9 can do.What do you think of it?

Well, after thinking about it, I thing the popup should open at the bottom of the screen, in order to be near of the thumb at the time the button is pressed. In the current Bing app, the search box is at the top and it's a pain.

In Mango the only thing the search-button does is open bing, its not working as search-function in apps anymore, not even in the marketplace. MS removed that.So your idea will never happen, it would be a step back for MS. And since its only used for opening Bing you will almost never use it anymore, so the 1,5 sec wait in Long Zheng's design wont be any problem for you.

it's not a bad solution, reminds me of the way the kinect interface in xbox works for selection, so in that respect it ties in to msft's 3 screen theme pretty well.maybe a square box that fills up with the user's accent color will go better with wp7's new square logo though...

I like the idea, and I've seen it proposed before. A short tap on the Search button should open an app-context search, while a long press should open Bing.

Sorry but you are all wrong (well almost h/w button is ok).What should happen is that MS allow developers to programatically change the behaviour of the search button.(see thread here http://forums.create.msdn.com/forums/t/74488.aspx )This would allow games or apps to customise/disable it while their game / app is active. The current functionality is a major pain in the arse and stupid.Simple. Fix plix MS.

Agree with this. I think the keys are fine in normal app use, it's gaming where you really hit these keys on accident the bulk of the time and having a way via in-game (and app perhaps) code to alter the keys to be less sensitive (Perhaps the press and hold method mentioned in this article or something similar) so accidental touches on these buttons has no effect on them.

Just holding the button when in a game/app is enough. Creating a popup or animation brings again an anoying thing. So when you are in a game/app, hold the button for a while. When not, just touching would launch Bing.And also let games/apps be able to disable those buttons or something. Fruit Ninja is a perfect game where these buttons are a pain.

To be honest, I've gotten pretty good at not accidentally hitting the buttons on my Focus, which underscores the problem that there's a definite learning curve with capacitive buttons.The problem with Zheng's method is that I have to wait before I'm taken to Bing. The entire point of the search button is I have instant, one-touch access to Bing from whereever I am in the phone. This concept is moving away from that.I think that a solution will likely require smarter or simply different hardware, possible working in conjunction with software. I thought of taking the capacitive area of each button and making it into a sort of bullseye of three or more circles. In order to register a button press, the capacitive area would have to see each of the three circles, from innermost to outermost, activated. This would more closely simulate the momentary pushbutton nature of physical buttons. If a touch were registered from one of the outside rings of the button area, it wouldn't register as a button press. The way it works today, hitting the corner of the any of the buttons is the same as hitting it in the center. This wouldn't alleviate the problem, but it could certainly reduce the number of stray activations. Thing is, I don't know that current capacitive buttons can operate on that accurate of a level, nor do I know if this could simply be written into the drivers for devices or if it would require a bit more circuitry to interpret input like this.Edit: It also simply breaks the way buttons work, as Mr Zheng admits. Pressing a button takes you to the related function. Going forward long pressing it operates a secondary function.

And how often do you go to Bing?I never go there, but maybe thats because I live in Sweden and the Bing-service is totally useless here.That **** button will be totally useless for me after Mango.

I live in the US, so it's pretty useful. I use Bing all the time, although usually it's by long pressing the home button and saying "find [search query]". From IE, I select text or a word and then hit the Bing button to send it directly to Bing. It's very useful, and having to wait because I have to hold the button or confirm a popup or any one of a million other reasons would kill it in daily usage.Again, there's a definite learning curve with capacitive buttons, but the vast majority of the time I actually hit the button intentionally. About the only time I don't is when I'm using my phone in bed and it slips from my hands.

That's what I love about my IE on the phone... if I just type a search query into the bar, it then defaults to Google. Don't understand why people think Bing is better.

I think this depends on the phone. HD7 on T-mobile defaults to Google, but others to Bing - it's carrier specific. On my Mango beta 2 HD7 it defaults to Bing.

This is true, on AT&T the IE address bar search pulls up the same Bing results hub screen as the Bing search button results would. I don't even see any way to have Google results...not that I would want to give up that integration with the rest of the phone that Bing provides.

Because Bing pulls back the pivot hub where you can swipe between web, news, and local which is formatted for the phone. It is also integrated with Bing maps making the entire process far superior than trying to use Google search and maps. With Mango, the image results, local scout, and deep app linking will further solidify Bing as the best search option for WP7.

I agree with Rico from above. Nice, idea, but WAY TOO LONG to use Bing. MS wants to make the Bing functionality a quick launch. Want to quickly ID a song you just caught? Oops, too bad, you had to sit and hold the button down for so long before it would come up.At first I had issues hitting the button, but once you get used to how you need to hold the phone, it's not much of an issue.

I'd have to wait 1.5 seconds before something happened? Uh, no. Defeats the purpose.Make the Search button two-level: tap does whatever is app-appropriate, and tap-hold for Bing. (BTW, the search engine should be user-configurable in options.)This fits well with the Start button (tap for home, tap-hold for voice control) and the coming Back button functionality (tap to go back through app(s), and doesn't Mango add tap-hold for app list?).

Here is my 2 pennies about the capacitive button issue:Why not have a "lock / hold" switch like the iphone / itouch? It will do different things depending on what app you are using. If I remember correctly the "hold" button made sure you did not inadvertently press any buttons or the screen while listening to music or watching a video or while it was in your pocket / bag. It can be tweaked to only lock the buttons while playing games or lock the entire screen + buttons when you have your toddler watching some children's show.This way manufacturers can keep the "soft" buttons, but we do get that "hard" lock / hold switch.

Yeah, I am pretty sure the FOCUS fix helps with the search button, but I definitely would like to lock the entire phone for uninterrupted video / music.

Since holding down both the home and back button causes a secondary function. ie voice search and multitasking respectively. I think it stands to reason that MS will introduce a feature that involves holding down the search button at some point, I personally think they will use this to launch a universal phone search eg search the phone for contacts, email, apps etc in one place.

This is great and all but in addition to HOW the search button works MS needs to address WHAT it searches. Bring on Universal Search!

this is not a huge problem for me (it does happen every so often but, not enough for me to be bothered by it). that said I like this proposed solution (1.5 sec is not long enough for me to feel inconvenienced but. it is long enough to make sure I WANT to do a search). So, my vote is... DO IT! =)

They could just come up with a condom to slide on the bottom of the phone. :-}Really thoughthe fix that was on the Focus +hardware buttons ++++++++++

So I agree with the method that the article proposes, however I would add that upon a single press with no hold, it brings in-app search function that can be used at the developers discression. So if a developer is making a game and decides he wants it to do nothing, then it will do nothing, but if you hold it for 1.5 seconds you get the full bing search.

If this can be set on a per-app basis it would be great. Particularly in games - that's the only area where I have stuff like that happen.

if they inter graded the search like the one on the PalmPre2, that was a great search button, press it and it would give you the option of google, your phone book or the OS. It was great!!!