Image points to on-screen Back, Start, Search buttons in Windows Phone 8.1

You may recall that, a couple of months ago, we published an article on claims that Microsoft is apparently planning to allow its Windows Phone partners to do away with the trio of hardware buttons - Back, Start and Search - that adorn the front of each device. The report stated that the move was part of a plan to help reduce production costs for OEMs, and would also pave the way for the possibility of dual-boot devices running both Windows Phone and Android

Today, those claims appeared to be substantiated thanks to a leak from the ever-reliable @evleaks, who - in a tweet that's as brilliantly tantalising as it is frustratingly succinct - revealed what he referred to as a "partial Windows Phone "Blue" screenshot" that shows nothing more than the three familiar Back, Start and Search buttons. 

Now, if this had come from any other source, we'd assume we were just being trolled, hard, by someone wanting to wind up the Windows Phone community. But as you'll likely be aware already, @evleaks has an exceptional track-record when it comes to spilling the beans on devices and information ahead of their official reveals, so we have no reason to doubt that this is anything but the real deal. 

The fact that he refers to these three buttons as being part of a "screenshot" suggests that the earlier reports were indeed correct. What is not yet clear is whether on-screen buttons - in a similar style to Android's display-based navigation inputs at the base of the display - will be a universal feature across all Windows Phone 8.1 devices, or if this will just be an optional feature that manufacturers can choose to implement. 


A mock-up showing how the on-screen buttons could look in action

Recent reports have suggested that Microsoft is going out of its way to offer various concessions and assurances to its hardware partners, in an effort to ensure that they continue to produce Windows Phone handsets in the future. Nokia has come to dominate Windows Phone, with its Lumia handsets capturing around 90% of sales at last count, and with Microsoft acquiring Nokia's devices business, the company is reportedly bending over backwards to make sure that other OEMs do not turn their backs on the platform. 

Reassured by unspecified commitments from Microsoft executives, ZTE has already committed to launching new Windows Phones next year, while one unverified report claims that Microsoft has offered Samsung around $1bn in "support" to secure the development and release of new WP handsets from the Korean hardware giant. 

Source and upper image: @evleaks

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Microsoft joins FIDO Alliance that wants to replace passwords

Next Story

Google acquires Boston Dynamics, makers of weird and scary robots

41 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

I don't think its a big deal either way. I like the physical buttons (except search which keeps coming up when I don't really want it) but also have used Android with the moving virtual buttons which can be handy.
Apple has done it with a physical button, so Windows certainly could keep them.

The only reason Microsoft is doing this is to lure Android manufactures into loading Windows Phone onto existing devices.

putting useful and intuitive features back into windows and reunifying the platform. it's like 1990s all over again for microsoft.

I use the search button the most... try this, listening to music in your car hit search then the music note icon, wait.... tell me that's not awesome! One of the best features of WP.

Hopefully it's smart enough to know to disable this on phones that have physical buttons. Otherwise it's a bit silly duplicating the buttons.

protocol7 said,
Hopefully it's smart enough to know to disable this on phones that have physical buttons. Otherwise it's a bit silly duplicating the buttons.

It'll obviously be smart enough for that. Even the keyboard is smart enough for that even though there are no more physical QWERTY keyboard phones anymore. For example, that old Dell phone with the keyboard the onscreen keyboard won't show if the keyboard was open.

Why do people insist the virtual buttons reduce screen real estate? If they work anything like the 'charms' buttons on Win8, they momentarily appear when swiped in.

I don't like physical buttons, main reason why I got a Nexus 4. Phones look so much sleeker with no buttons on em.
Besides, you can turn the phone in any direction and the buttons move with it, nice feature.

LUTZIFER said,
I don't like physical buttons, main reason why I got a Nexus 4. Phones look so much sleeker with no buttons on em.
Besides, you can turn the phone in any direction and the buttons move with it, nice feature.

I dont like physical buttons either. You can also change the software buttons images as well...which is nice.

I definitely prefer the idea of 'swipe-in' on-screen buttons. This would help:

1) Avoid pressing the buttons by accident, particularly during a game.

2) Decrease the size of the handset, especially the phablet sort.

3) Give the handsets a more symmetrical look.

4) Rotate the buttons for use in landscape mode. Currently Windows Phone lacks universal landscape support.

5) Make it look more in sync with Windows 8 (charms functionality)

I think it's a much better idea to use these than the capacitive buttons (hardware buttons are rarely used).

SCOOBY_666UK said,
I definitely prefer the idea of 'swipe-in' on-screen buttons. This would help:

1) Avoid pressing the buttons by accident, particularly during a game.

2) Decrease the size of the handset, especially the phablet sort.

3) Give the handsets a more symmetrical look.

4) Rotate the buttons for use in landscape mode. Currently Windows Phone lacks universal landscape support.

5) Make it look more in sync with Windows 8 (charms functionality)

I think it's a much better idea to use these than the capacitive buttons (hardware buttons are rarely used).

Android has this in 4.4. When playing a game, the softkeys are hidden until you swipe down. Then they pop up. Same when viewing pictures. Nice feature and WP users will like it.

Melfster said,
Since Android copied ios does that mean Windows phone copies ios too.

But iOS6 and iOS7 was a copy of Windows Phone 7.5 in features and 8 in looks....

This is why we don't know anything about WP8.1

recursive said,
Looks like they copied Android again.

Everyone copies...sooner people realize, accept, and stop using this as a reason to bash a company....the better.

Android copied iOS who copied WinPhone who copied Android who copied S60 who copied Blackberry who copied iOS who copied Firefox who copied Android who copied WinMob who copied Palm who copied S40 who copied some other obscure phone OS who copied someone else's ideas which was derived from a concept after seeing Windows 3.1 which was clearly a copy of MacOS which was a copy of Lisa which copied Xerox Star which copied real life..

There, that should put that to rest!

*Please note that I'm taking the ****, and really do not care what's right and what's wrong. It's all useless internet convo anyway!

Well as long as the search button gets used in app instead of solely for Bing, this is a worthwhile change

Edit: Some apps (like Store) ONLY have a search button in the breadcrumb bar, and I think that's dumb.

Pprobably more to do with the unification of RT across tablet and phones. I wonder if we'll get swipe in for charms that give the search option or if it's simply going to be at the bottom of the screen taking up space all the time... and it'll look a bit weird with two sets of buttons for those with supported handsets that are upgradable (if that is even the case).

Edited by sagum, Dec 14 2013, 2:15pm :

sagum said,
Pprobably more to do with the unification of RT across tablet and phones. I wonder if we'll get swipe in for charms that give the search option or if it's simply going to be at the bottom of the screen taking up space all the time... and it'll look a bit weird with two sets of buttons for those with supported handsets that are upgradable (if that is even the case).

If they're at the bottom but you can swipe up to show them like the charms menu that'd be a nice option for it.

Sadly the pre-mango days when this is how the search button was a lot of users didn't know how to search content which lead to the change of the search button to the now pointless and rarely used Bing button

This was hinted at months ago from what I remember. It's a smart move and allows OEMs the ability to load WP on the same devices that run android with out needing to redo anything.

I have a 620 and would rather they do things the same way as Android with the on screen buttons. I don't think I have ever used the search button!

On-screen back/home/whatever buttons are inferior to physical buttons. The sole purpose they exist is to save manufacturing costs.

On-screen buttons also take up and waste screen space, and you end up with some weird non-standard resolution that apps can use because of the buttons taking up space.

One of the main reasons I got the LG Optimus 7 and continue to use it, is the physical clickable buttons, giving tactile feed back. If this is the way WP is heading, I'll probably be keeping my phone for a wee bit longer.

Still, on screen buttons doesn't always have to be bad and taking up screen space. If you look at how Microsoft have done it with swipe in for the charms menu on Windows 8, that works well on tablets.


Still, I use the search button quite a lot on my phone, but then I'm also able to press my physical start button to unlock my phone too, so it's kind of an extension of that, I guess.
Would prefer the search button to be useful in apps, or at least have the three dots to search with application... like you can use with the camera button.

NoClipMode said,
On-screen back/home/whatever buttons are inferior to physical buttons. The sole purpose they exist is to save manufacturing costs.

On-screen buttons also take up and waste screen space, and you end up with some weird non-standard resolution that apps can use because of the buttons taking up space.

I agree, physical Home, Menu, Back buttons are one of the reasons why I prefer my Galaxy S3 over the Nexus 4/5.

myxomatosis said,

I agree, physical Home, Menu, Back buttons are one of the reasons why I prefer my Galaxy S3 over the Nexus 4/5.

as anyone who's tried to answer their phone with cold / wet hands will tell you, physical buttons are far superior!

I bet you this is not for ALL wp8 devices, but for low cost ones. A new Lumia 520 successor with on-screen buttons would be cheaper even to produce and could be sold for less than the bargain price it has already. Sales would increase even more, there would not be any valid excuse to not get a smartphone.

InTheSwiss said,
I have a 620 and would rather they do things the same way as Android with the on screen buttons. I don't think I have ever used the search button!

The original design for the Search key made more sense, as the planned updates to the Bing interface that incorporates more device/App content has been delayed and revamped and delayed.

Unless I'm using voice, I use the Search button a lot, as it is where I start when looking up anything on the web.

Mobius Enigma said,

The original design for the Search key made more sense, as the planned updates to the Bing interface that incorporates more device/App content has been delayed and revamped and delayed.

Unless I'm using voice, I use the Search button a lot, as it is where I start when looking up anything on the web.


I don't use the search because for one Bing is useless to me, and web-search isn't so important to me it needs a dedicated much to easily pressed button for it. Rather they finished their design or just kept it out.

Shadowzz said,

I don't use the search because for one Bing is useless to me, and web-search isn't so important to me it needs a dedicated much to easily pressed button for it. Rather they finished their design or just kept it out.

It was a part of the WP7 hardware design, and as it originally functioned, it worked more like the Win8.1 Search of App context and data works.

This functionality was supposed to return at some point, and will be with the 8.1 WP update to be consistent with the desktop Win8.1 search model.

Windows 8 kind of messed up things, as it had a different search model that was replaced in 8.1.

Even the 'local' information was curtailed and partially removed from the WP8 search features as they were revamping Bing server side. WP8's search results have added the local (geographically) information back in just recently.