Report: Microsoft to let OEMs use virtual buttons in Windows Phone 8.1

News that Microsoft may kill off the physical back button in its next major Windows Phone update caused a splash last week, but a new report claims the news wasn't correct.

According to a new article by The Verge, Microsoft won't actually be removing the back button in Windows Phone 8.1. Instead, the company will let its hardware partners replace the physical back, home and search buttons with virtual versions, similar to the menu bar in many Android devices, such as Google's Nexus line. The buttons would allegedly appear in a black bar at the bottom of a screen "in an effort to lower costs for device manufacturers," the article states.

The report claims the change would allow developers to dual-boot smartphones with both Android and Windows Phone, as Microsoft was rumored to be pushing HTC to do.

If the report is accurate, it would provide Microsoft's hardware partners with more options in designing their smartphones. Several OEMs have appeared to scale back Windows Phone plans in recent months, with HTC saying it is "assessing the situation" of Microsoft's agreement to purchase Nokia's smartphone division. Nokia is the clear market leader of Windows Phone hardware sales, with other hardware manufacturers lagging far behind.

Hardware partners have reportedly canceled several smartphones because of Microsoft's strict requirements, with Bloomberg reporting in December that HTC scrapped plans for a large-screen smartphone with Microsoft's mobile operating system. Though Microsoft didn't support large-screen smartphones at the time, it has since announced Update 3 for Windows Phone 8, which supports devices up to about 6 inches.

Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to launch early next year, though an exact time frame is unclear.

Source: The Verge

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32 Comments

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I started with windows phone 7 and I love the physical buttons I have a lumia 520 I wasn't sure if I would hate windows phone 8 I'm not happy with pod-casting I miss my zune software and when I added a Micro SD card instead of pooling the storage it shows the storage of both and when I plug it in it no longer shows up in explorer so I need to put the micro SD into an SD adapter into my laptop copy/paste.

The return of WM 6.XX.... Excellent; hopefully MS will bring back other features we had then and are still missing on WP.

Enron said,
I hope Microsoft doesn't base their Windows 8 tech support out of Boston.

"Swipe for the chaaahm baaah"


lol so random, but that would be funny

actually,this might be an excellent solution. if you swipe up from the bottom of the screen, then the three buttons will pop up, back,home and search. no more accidentally pressing search when playing a game. you have to actually swipe to bring it up, sort of like the charms bar on win8.

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.

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.

Edited by nMIK-3, Oct 15 2013, 7:05pm :

so like android where their large phone screens steal real-state to show a button bar, now WP users will be scammed off pixels. great. another android innovation making life harder.

I'm on the fence about it. I really like the capacitive back button on my WP, but the search button is a bit annoying since it's very prone to accidental hitting. That said, I'd first like to see how they implement the buttons. Then I'll judge.

Edited by Sszecret, Oct 15 2013, 7:46pm :

Good deal. I never liked the physical buttons for back/home on Androids and will neber buy a phone with those.

Just one of many examples on how companies copy features/ideas from others for their own products.

techbeck said,
Good deal. I never liked the physical buttons for back/home on Androids and will neber buy a phone with those.

Just one of many examples on how companies copy features/ideas from others for their own products.

I'm curious. Do you think our quality of life would be better or worse if companies never took what other companies did well or was proven to be successful and mimic'd that behavior/tech/experience?

MrHumpty said,
I'm curious. Do you think our quality of life would be better or worse if companies never took what other companies did well or was proven to be successful and mimic'd that behavior/tech/experience?

I think it is fine that other companies take ideas and use them in their own products. As long as they are not breaking any laws that is. I just get tired of the comments that so and so copied so and so.

There is only a few ways to do something so this is expected really. If no one copied anything/improved on anything from another company...we would be left with one smartphone maker, one TV maker, one car manufacturer......

Glad to see MS jumping on this quick. Most phones now have capacitive buttons anyway, they are just an extended section of the touch panel that goes past the LCD. Might as well put them on the screen so you can turn off buttons when you can show only what buttons are needed, or even turn them off when full screen.

cant say im a fan. Im working on a S3 right now, and it has a hardware button and software button displayed right above each other that do the exact same thing. When my boss first gave it to me, it confused (coming from iOS and WP7/8) me because i couldnt see the point. After a few months, I cant say its grown on me any more.

hmmm does it run the original software ? if the phone has hardware buttons it's not supposed to display the software buttons. though I haven't tried the S3 myself to make sure.

HawkMan said,
hmmm does it run the original software ? if the phone has hardware buttons it's not supposed to display the software buttons. though I haven't tried the S3 myself to make sure.
To be honest im not sure. Ive never used android besides this S3, and every time i view a friends android phone, they all look different so Im not sure what is stock lol.

The black bar in Android is only shown on devices without hardware buttons. Apps can and do put bars at the bottom of their view but those aren't the Android buttons (back, home, multi-task view). With a custom ROM or root you can enable the on-screen controls on the S3 but that is not default behavior.

MikeInBA said,
To be honest im not sure. Ive never used android besides this S3, and every time i view a friends android phone, they all look different so Im not sure what is stock lol.

I have an S3 and you're not meant to have software buttons constantly on the screen. Just hardware buttons and thats it. Something isn't right with your phone. Seems like it's using a custom ROM or something.

Yeah. There are no software buttons for the S3, so if you plan on purchasing a phone in the future, know it most likely will not have software buttons if hardware buttons are in effect!

I like it. I hate how many times I was in the middle of the game, and I accidently touch the search or the back button .....

Maybe they will give us the option to swipe down to close and from the left to loop thru the tasks like in W8.

Spicoli said,
I kept hitting it by accident when I first got the phone too. How would this help though? You'll still need the button there to get out of the game.

MDboyz said,
Maybe they will give us the option to swipe down to close and from the left to loop thru the tasks like in W8.

They could do it like the BB10 and swipe from the button area onto the screen. Really they could do that right now with a software change to stop accidently hitting those buttons. Instead of just pushing the windows button, you have to push it and then slide up.

I'm fairly certain the transition to software (virtual) buttons was on the roadmap from even the 7.x days.

Third party IME support would be the next best thing to happen to Windows Phone if you ask me.