Microsoft may be preparing to kill off its Windows Phone back button in a future 8.1 release. Windows watcher Paul Thurrott claims that a single source has indicated the requirement for a hardware back button will be dropped with Windows Phone 8.1, an update expected to debut in early 2014. The back button typically lets users navigate back to other applications, but Windows Phone users are said to largely use the Start button to navigate home and select other apps.
Windows Phone also uses the back button to access a multitasking user interface, but it's not clear exactly how multitasking will operate in Windows Phone 8.1 if the button is removed. Windows Phone 8.1 is said to include multitasking improvements for background processes and notifications. Notification support on Windows Phone has been rather lacking, and the company is widely expected to be preparing a Notification Center for the 8.1 update.
Other improvements include support for up to 10-inch displays. Microsoft is currently preparing a General Distribution Release 3 of Windows Phone 8, known as GDR3, that will include support for 5- and 6-inch displays. Windows Phone 8.1 is said to go a step further, extending that support to 7- and 10-inch displays. Windows 8 and Windows RT typically fill the 7-inch onwards gap, and it's not clear how Microsoft plans to encourage OEMs to use either operating system for various devices.
Microsoft is also said to be preparing a universal binary for applications, allowing developers to create a single app that can run on Windows RT and Windows Phone. Windows chief Terry Myerson has previously hinted at a merge of the Windows Phone and Windows RT platforms, and it appears 8.1 will push down that path. Microsoft is expected to release Windows Phone 8.1 to existing devices in spring 2014, alongside a Windows 8.1 GDR update.