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Report: Microsoft to relax requirements for Windows Phone capacitive buttons

Lumia 925

The Verge reports that Microsoft may well be looking to relax its requirements regarding the hardware capacitive buttons on Windows Phones. Currently, OEM partners include three buttons on the front of each device; back, home and search. These have been with the platform since launch back in 2010, but we could well be seeing a slight change with potential hybrid hardware and more when Windows Phone 8.1 is released.

Previous rumours had Microsoft removing the back button functionality altogether. So why would manufacturers want to remove the capacitive buttons, in favour of on-screen solutions? To save costs. This will affect low-end hardware (or devices where the hardware buttons aren't suitable), but the main point is the experience won't seemingly be affected by the change. It's believed the virtual buttons will be a black bar at the bottom of the screen.

Windows Phone Blue

Sources familiar with Microsoft plans say the company is experimenting with on-screen buttons to ensure apps that have been built around the back button will continue to function as normal. We can look at how Google has implemented a similar solution in Android. Should this hardware requirement be altered, it will signal yet another change to urge OEMs to create low-cost devices.

Finally, The Verge notes that any future hardware specification changes will be related to Microsoft's efforts to have HTC install Windows Phone on its Android hardware. With virtual buttons for both operating systems, it would be easier to manage and deploy said hardware, while cutting cost.

Source: The Verge

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Reader comments

Report: Microsoft to relax requirements for Windows Phone capacitive buttons

206 Comments

its not about what you like. Its about cheaper cost. on the plus side they can still use all 3 if they so choose.

You are wrong. It really is about what I (the consumer) like(s).
The reason many of us opted for WP is because we love how most, if not all, handsets work the same. A good example is the camera button. When we see a Windows Phone device, we know it has a camera button on the lower right side. If I needed customization, I would have bought an Android. And onscreen buttons are awful. In an emergency if your screen breaks (car accident) you can use still use the windows button to voice navigate the phone to call for help. Etc. Etc.

Exaclty.What the hell are they doing? Either get rid of them, the search-buton is a joke anyway, or keep it as it is.

Yes it's about what consumer likes, not a few hundred WP geeks who salivate over their WP devices in the middle of the night (Trust me, I know). And majority of consumers want cheaper phones and this will allow OEMs to lower prices a little if not dramatically.

My reasons for not liking the onscreen buttons only is i always buy the larger phones because i love the screen realestate. That's why i bought the Samsung Galaxy S3 and not the HTC ONE for my girl, even returned the Nexus because having buttons onscreen defeats having a larger screen. IMHO...

I tried, but that was months ago, when the options were HTC 8X, and she wanted a large screened phone n the T-Mobile rep kept pushing the GS3, now she doesn't want a WP because there is no Candy Crush (she's addicted).

Completely agree with you. The day Nokia starts doing this it will be the last day they get any money from me! Onscreen buttons, such a waste or real-estate, what a joke!

that's the reason they are doing it, they most likely will be replacing the back button with gestures (like in Win 8 and Rt) , another step on creating a unified OS..

Removing the capacitive buttons will make the hardware and software seem less integrated and therefore cheap. I don't like the idea of simply loading WP on android hardware, I think it will create a bad customer experience and we will loose in the long run.

There are regular buttons (ok), cap. Touch id( does not work with moist or lotion covered hands until ios7.3) or regular cap. That work with anything and are pretty easy to use.

um bro, no offense, but stay the hell away from my phone with your moist, lotioned hands. I DON't EVEN wanna know...

They should use taps, like the 'double tap' to wake feature. 12 taps for 'back'. 8 taps for 'home', 23 taps for 'search'.

It probably has more to do with merging RT and Phone eventually since RT apps don't use any button inputs, in the long run it will work out better.
Although to be honest id also prefer keeping the back button, no point wasting screen space on navigation.

So everytime we want to press Baxk for ordinary navigation we have to swipe-tap? Hmm, on to something there... Navigation on WP is way too easy as is.

The way huawei does it is that it stays out until you hide it and then it's just out of sight and a swipe away when you want it out again, look up the huawei ascend mate to see what im talking about

As long as the buttons don't rotate with the screen like they do in Android, this would be fine. I hate having buttons changing positions all the time...so annoying, especially if you're holding the phone with one hand in landscape and still want to reach the buttons - much easier when they're right where your hand is, rather than reach over to the center.

One nice thing about Windows Phone, most buttons don't move with the screen, they just pivot around where they are based on orientation. :)

Unfortunately, if Microsoft is aiming to make WP like WRT, the buttons will move to a different side of the screen as part of screen rotation.

I have an LG G2 with onscreen software buttons and they take up about 1/4 of the screen but the problem is they stay on while you play games or are in apps that you don't need a back or search button. Make them auto fade away and this will be a good thing

Well, I think the current format is great. I will welcome the change as long as we keep all three, make them on screen which allows the to be hidden when we are in apps. And I mean, ANY app. Offer us a swipe gesture to bring them back when needed. Dont remove then just for the sake of it but actually make it intuitive.

Agreed. Honestly, I'm more concerned with them removing the back button. I'd rather not have a search button-- that's assuming that there will be a shortcut in 8.1 to get to Cortana easily (double tab home?). 

I actually prefer on screen buttons, but they need to be hidden when not in use. They should have a setting if you want them to auto-hide or have them always on.

That's why I love the webOS or blackberry swipe gestures. They're just so damn intuitive. this is a good step forward if they implement it correctly.

How much money are they really saving? I can't see it costing that much in the big picture of things. BUT if they cut the cost and room for buttons they better give more micro SD support! Lol.

Well it doesn't necessarily cost much more per phone to have the buttons, but simply not having to incorporate buttons into your design would save a ton of time for the engineers and save space on the device itself for more of other things, including a bigger screen. So in the end, it would simply help squeeze better hardware into the lower end devices.

Most low-end WP's already have SD support, but it WOULD be nice to have on the higher end hardware.

I can see the space saving for lower end phones but I honestly can't see it being that much of a hassle for engineers to incorporate. And yea they def do need to put micro SD in more top end phones. Everyone I know that has a phone with that option utilizes it. I don't understand why its not in most phones.

If you are a company that already makes Android devices and most of them have no capacitive buttons, you would have to design an entire new phone to use it with WP.  That costs a lot of money.
Plus, if it says 10 cents a phones, that can really add up if you sell a 100 million WP phones over a few years.

Ten cents? I don't think people would complain if a phone cost them even 50 cents more. So the cost savings is a bad argument in my eyes.

This isn't about helping the consumer. Its about OEM adoption. And yes, OEMs (to the cries of millions of software and hardware engineers) will cut or change features to save pennies on their devices.

It should always be about the consumer. Because that's what buys the products. The devs and engineers don't buy them. So make what consumers want and you'll make money regardless of cost. But you also have to have great customer relations. As HTC would know lol. So if consumers have what they want on good quality products saving cost won't matter as much.

I hope they get rid of all the capacitive buttons!  This will be a good move if they do, but they can't half ass it and need to make a clean break with 8.1 
I became a stronger supporter of this when I saw the Moto X: a large 4.7" screen on a device that felt like the size of a 4" one.

With GDR3 adding the "X to close" in the multitasking switch view, the Back button is useless (this could be implemented by pressing down Windows button and moving voice commands to pressing down Search button). So this makes perfect sense to me, to get rid of that. But I don't like the idea of getting rid of the other two. At the very least, the Windows button HAS to stay. Wouldn't be a WP without it. :)

Really? I didn't realize that the if you're in a webpage and want to go to the previous page, all you have to do is hit the 'X'. Fascinating. I'm gonna have to try this later.

I sense sarcasm, so let me add my own: I didn't realize that pressing the back button in the browser goes to previous pages! I am so glad we have a browser with a functional back button, not one that only works within a single session of browsing, but one that goes back through browsing history regardless of whether one has just switched apps to Internet Explorer.
I hope you don't mind my little jab, but honestly, our back-button is pretty useless as it is now. Any change would be better. At least if they kill it app developers will be forced to do the job MSoft never did.

In that case all buttons are useless. I only use my 12 tap back button to get to the home screen and don't get me started on the search button. Buttons aren't need (well maybe one) but they are helpful.

As it stands I have little idea where the back button is going to take me anyway. Sometimes it takes me back to the previous app, sometimes back to the previous page within app. It's fairly broken. 

Exactly. If you're in IE, for example, it COULD take you back one page. It could also just exit IE altogether, depending on where you were when you opened IE. And to make matters worse, the History list seems random. I can't ever seem to find half the sites I've visited there.
A proper soft back button in IE would be a lot more helpful than what we have now.

Except that the back button isn't just used to close things.  It's also used to go back to a previous screen within an application.  This will still need to be handled with a back button (physical or virtual) or a whole lot of apps are going to be broken.

The back button should still stay. It doesn't make sense for it to disappear. Let's say you open a webpage and then want to navigate back, are you going to close IE altogether and open it up again???:D

No. Personally id rather have a virtual back button. As for IE, the same it is on the desktop, or chrome is on a tablet/phone. A back button you just tap when needed.

We are then talking about redesigning the way the app works. We don't want Microsoft to be making this nightmarish decision since developers wouldn't like it one bit. It is hard enough to get developers onboard already.

Or they can put the back/forward button in the task bar. Just like on the iPhone and Androids. Question is: why hasn't Microsoft done that from the beginnig? It's good to forward the page when you accidentally go back, instead of going through the recent opened websites... Besides, it would be great for when you want to go back, like, 5 pages, for instance. You just long press the back/forward button and select the page you wanna go back to. Just like that!

How is the "X" making the back button useless?  When I'm in certain apps and the deeper I go into the app I simply hit the back button to get to my previous screen of that app.  How is hitting the "X" going to get me back to the previous screen in a particular app?  It seems to me it would close out the app completely. 
 
As I've always stated no one particular person is ever satisfied with anything.  To each their own.  The phones that are made with the three buttons are the phones I will look to purchase because I like that setup. 

I am the user and want be in control of apps I can switch to, which is not perfectly implemented yet.

How about double tap back to close current app. Holding the back button then pressing the X is too slow and is too much work.

What are you talking about?  There's a gazillion apps that use the back button for navigating backwards from one menu to the previous menu.  While they could certainly all be changed, it doesn't mean that mere addition of the "X to close" means we can all now bust the back button with an awl.
 

Why the need to make concessions to other OEM's when they will potentially have their own hardware division soon? Microsoft should be pushing forward with innovative ideas with their own hardware rather than trying to please OEM's that have shown little interest in supporting WP. Dump them all then they can truly push the envelope.

I don't think this is solely driven by costs. I think its part of the vision they have for Windows Phone. The back button is situational. Its critical to some apps but worthless in others. It makes sense to eliminate it and just make it a software option for those who want to use it. Its redundant and not truly necessary. They could go down to one button and be fine. The search is cool, but you could access it in other ways.

They could do one windows button that lights up for different notifications but then you would need to add pull down notification shade and or control center. That might even get people from other platforms to switch. Just my 2 cents...

I'd say it's not just the vision for WP, but Windows in general. If Microsoft unify the app stores where W8 apps don't use a physical back button, we may see a natural transition and a more unified experience where phone is more similar to tablet so rather than learning two sets of UIs things transfer more easily between the two.

I like androids software implementation of buttons. I'd like to see it on windows phone, I think it would work here as well.

We wouldn't be losing the WP button - it would work and look the same, just be a button. And it would allow for smaller bezels or more effective use of the total display.

Yes, of course. But the space used for those buttons is narrower on my 7" nexus tablet than on my 4.3" HTC 8X. Effectively, with hardware buttons the nexus 7 would be more like 6.8", while without them the HTC 8X could have been more like 4.5", with the software buttons taking up basically .1" diagonally (if you drew the diagonal acting as if the buttons were not part of the screen)

By putting them into the LCD, you can reduce the amount of overall space, and increase the display size to accomodate for and pass the previous design's size.

VW strategy.But, Germans save money by using one less clip on the door,not by removing the f....ing door handle!

This completely rules out the possibility of the Start Button becoming a notification LED, well, who knows, when things become virtual, more things are possible and becomes more easier to program as well. I don't know.

Not necessarily. Android has a virtual home button (and others) and it pulses on my Nexus 7 when I have notifications.

I'm fine with this change. It works fine with iPhone. I'd still buy the better products regardless of pricing (within reason).

Love lots of whats happening here. BUT, as this seems to be about loosing the search button and/or the back button and replacing it with on screen soft keys, you end up with a big bezel at the bottom AND soft keys, look how much screen real estate is being lost here for the screen.

Wouldn't it technically cost more because now the devices will have larger screens? =P I know I'm being a smart ass but I legitimately don't know how this will save any money on the part of OEMs.
 
I would be all for Microsoft adopting more gestures. Something like: swipe left on the bottom bezel and it goes back. Right activates search. Up goes home and maybe up again from the home screen for multitasking? It doesn't get the capacitive area away, but it could be shrunk down and allow more room for viewable space(instead of with the software version that will just cover the screen anyway).

If they do decide to do this. It should be a swipe gesture. We swipe up from the bottom of the phone and the three buttons appear. And if they are not used after a few seconds they fade away. Now that's something I would use

I like it. This gives extra incentive to HTC and Samsung since they can basically build the same phone with different OSes. Case in point- I really like the build of the HTC One, but wouldn't buy it because of the OS. If I could have an HTC One running Windows Phone 8/8.1, they could take my money today.

I think you hit the nail on the head there. Same phone, different OS, is at the core of what made Microsoft huge. That's good business strategy, even if it may lead to some homogeneous phones.

Well first Nokia and others will need to be convinced to use a 16:9 aspect ratio.  I still don't understand why they insist on 15:9.

So that they can just stretch the screen from 15:9 to 16:9 and use that extra 1 point for on screen buttons and apps still work the same as ever, just like on current gen Lumias... :)

Ugh, they're making it WORSE!
What they need to do is offer actual physical buttons so you don't accidentally press those buttons, especially the annoying search button.

I completely agree. Hitting the search button accidentally is truly annoying. It should be a swipe down box or a holding of the windows button.

NOT
The physical button is the worst possible choise. It brakes the UX totally.
When you use your phone by touching the screen slightly with your fingertip just a little bit, and the phone responds to that immediately, the UI seems fluid and nice. BUT if you every now and then have to touch a real button by PRESSING it, it seems really strange. You actually have to THINK what you are about to do before pressing. Otherwise you would only slightly touch it with your fingertip, as you normaly do, and the physical button would never respond to that.
If you got to think before you do something, that is not intuitive at all! It's only bad user experience.
Trust me on this, i've been there. I once had a lagging phone (yes, you guessed it right, an adroid) with physical buttons and it was a real pain in the backplate. I will never get an other phone with that feature again.

I agree 100%. It would be nice to be able to hand my phone to someone or turn it around to show someone something without the damn search taking over.

I'd also be happy if they had something like the charms bar to provide the default button functionality.

"I agree 100%. It would be nice to be able to hand my phone to someone or turn it around to show someone something without the damn search taking over."
Haha, I agree. I always have to hand people the phone in a way that makes it so they don't touch that one button. It's pretty weird that the phone even HAS a "one use button" like that Search now that I think about it. 

What they should do is have an option in settings for hold to search so Bing only come up on a long press rather than a tap.

Agreed. There are things that just work. Like a pull down notifications center or command center. There just isn't a better way to do it. They need to get on board. Google won the race on that feature, but iPhone found a way to make it even better. Just make it work! Volume control, toggles, and commonly used apps are all critical.

Oh I will move on, believe me. With all these phones become all but the same, there is no need for a brand loyalty.

Swipe upward from the bottom to bring ALL three buttons, over the app menu, tap outside to make them disappear. Then, shrink the lower & upper edges to the functional minimum while expanding the screen size. Keep the haptic feedback and slap the branding logos in the back.

I'll inspect next week.

I am really glad and happy reading this.
Personally I highly prefer the button-less devices and I love the Nexus experiences with virtual buttons.
I was expecting this to happen really soon, assuming that Windows 8 touch devices already offering a full button-less experience with Charms and Windows Phone will be merging with regular Windows in the near future, was only a matter of time to have a confirmation on this.
The best solution for Microsoft would be to give total freedom to OEMs and allow a combination of devices with or without buttons.
Now all I personally need is a confirmation that the Windows Logo on Tablets, Laptops and Phones can be configurable and act as a multicolored Notification led light.

I seriously dislike this idea, I don't want to give real estate up for onscreen buttons, it is ugly as well!

I don't like that Microsoft is relaxing requirements, it encourages fragmentation. I like the loss of persistent buttons even less. I hate the onscreen buttons on Android. They add an extra step to what should be a quick action and use up useful real estate. Then there's the complication of what to do when the screen rotates.

At the very least I hope Microsoft doesn't just go an copy Android. That implementation is crap. I'd prefer something more like Apple, which would necessesitate at least one physical button remains.

Never used Android but with possible different hardware requirements, what happens when you have to do manual soft resets on the device? At minimum you need some consistency or maybe not and it will be different based on each OEM? Overall, I am not a big fan of this for the comments already mentioned by past users. If anything, I would forward added to deal with web browsing.

I like this idea, rid of the compasitive buttons for a uniform on screen button layout. This will enable more screen space, a smaller phone and virtually unify windows tablets with the wp8.x operating system. The key point here is having the on screen buttons function like the charms bar. Swipe them in to use, tap the screen or swipe them out to rid of them. That would be beautiful. Now if only they used the iPhone method to exit out of apps in the multitasking screen, swipe down... Instead they went with the (x) method too hard to reach with larger phones in one handed use

I totally agree with you, in regards to exiting out of apps like iPhone -- that big, dirty, stinking 'X' is absolutely awful!

What about adding charms like in Windows 8??? I think it would be awesome.

But those who use these capacitive buttons will have a pain in the ass, because everytime you go back to home screen just to check time (e.g. Photo app) where it was just Start,Back now it's gonna be swipe,Start,swipe,Back. An extra step...

i actually like the back button but i dont understand why there wasn't a forward button. the new black bar would make sense. i mean when i browse, i am able to go back with the button but when i want to return to that page, its impossible. looking forward to the new update. I just wish they would of thought this out cause now i will have a non-functional back button on my lumia 1020. 

Exactly, if this turns out to be true, then how the hell can they do something like that? Leaving customers with a useless back button -- at this rate, I'm going to be forced to leave WP8 for iPhone because it looks like Microsoft haven't got a clue, and they expect customers to stay loyal when they alienate them -- just look at what they did with WP7?

While thinking about this change, how about adding a hangup/answer button?  I want to be able to hangup/pickup my phone call without looking at my WP screen and click on virtual Answer/End button.

I'm not a fan of the current button implementation. I hit them on accident all the time. I don't seem to have that issue on my Nexus 4 with the on screen buttons. Also, I really like how you can swipe up on the home button and launch things. I hope this comes to Windows Phone in the future.

Ugh. I won't be getting a device lacking appropriate non-digital buttons. This is one of the things I think has made using a Windows Phone device a better experience as it's really easy to get around without looking for it(and it taking up space) on the screen. I found it really frustrating trying to use an iPhone 5 at Best Buy because I couldn't instinctively back out of and control apps.

I'm all for it, JUST if dragging up from the bottom of the device brings THE WINDOWS 8 CHARMS BAR. That way both operating systems will kinda start looking like each other. 

I'll say it: I wouldn't mind no physical buttons in favour of a solution equal to Sony's version of Android. Back button, start button, multitasking button. All on screen. Away with the Bing search button.

This would be fine if they hid the buttons as a bottom edge swipe. It wouldn't affect anything else in the system as is.

Not fan of the idea, but I trust Microsoft UX designers, they really made W8 experience great and modern (pun), so I'm fairly confident they won't make cheap changes.

I dont currently use a Windows phone - Im waiting for 1020 variant on Verizon, or to see what is released the 22nd, or possibly even when they release 8.1 phones.  Either way, Ive been an Andoid tinkerer for a few years now, and there is gesture controls for the navigation panel on many custom roms - a swipe in from a specific place, and your menu pops up.  This is how the charms menu works in windows 8, and how i think it should be implemented on windows phone.  I went to the Verizon store recently to play with the 928, and was really wishing there was gesture contolled charms, instead of capacative buttons that take up screen real estate.  It would be much more integrated with Windows 8, and would allow for less bezel on the screen.  Make it happen MS!!!

I would love if the buttons were on screen and only popped up when prompted. It amazes me that my 4-year-old even bothers playing a game on my 920 because about once every minute-and-a-half or so she hits back or search and just opens up the games tile again and moves on to another game. Also, every time I pass my phone to show someone a video or article it gets passed right back because it's no longer on the screen. A physical button makes a lot of sense to me, but so do buttons that get out of the way when they aren't needed or wanted. Just don't touch my camera button.

I like capacitive buttons, they give a more organic feel to the device. I'm not buying a cheap phone anyway, so most likely I won't be affected.

This is unrelated, so suck it up❕
Is anyone having problems connecting to WiFi after the att update❔

I say leave them. Only issue I have is I sometimes hit the search button. Which the past 3 phones this has been the case. But these buttons are essential to functionality. Wtf stop trying to be like everyone else. Leave them alone.

It seems like a good idea, it would give more room for bigger screen size without breaking the "6 inch big note size barrier". God knows the Lumia 920 size is big enough as it is and I see plenty of room in it for a bigger screen but there's alot of waste of space on the button area. Especially since the new tile system in GDR3 is going to be for 1080p 6 inches or above WP's (i.e. Lumia 929, 1520).

I hate onscreen buttons! I will not buy ANY new WP device if it has on screen buttons, ill stick with the current generation of windows phones if that's the case

So many crybabies on this thread, where did they come from? Software buttons are more versstile and solve yoo annoying wp problems. Accidentally pressing the buttons and the fact that the buttons stay on while watching movies. I cant even hand my phone to someone without accidentally going to search.

I just want the option to turn off the vibration when you push the buttons. I disable tones and all button feedback I can whenever I get a phone. I have eyes, I don't need aural or tactile feedback.

I think they should keep the back button and just replace the search button with a menu (...) button.

The return of WM 6.xx..Excellent news; hopefully MS will bring back other features that were in that OS and still missed on WP.

This is from a feature suggestion thread I started at windowsphone.uservoice.com
 

Replace Capacative "Search" Button with "Settings" Button
 

The settings "gear wheel" would take the place of the magnifying glass on the lower right capacitive key. On the Start screen, this would launch the main settings for the phone (System and Applications), within apps this key would jump to the available app settings.
 
I find this much more useful than going to the internet to search, which I can do from my browser anyway. Alternately, this "capacitive key #3" could be customizable to whatever app or setting you use most instead (place a call, People list, or a specific setting such as Bluetooth).

 

I also happen to use the capacitive back button at least as much as I use the mechanical side lock button, so I think that would be unwise to remove.

they just take up room. they shouldn't have to be there. Again, like webOS it should be with jesture based control.

I don't like changing the captive buttons. I use all three. My work phone is an iPhone and I hate having just one button.

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