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

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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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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