In October, I wrote about some of the information I had received about Windows Phone 8.1. Among that information was that Microsoft was removing the Back button from the system because "back stack" navigation was difficult for users. But a recent rumor suggests that Microsoft may go even further, and remove all three of the front-facing buttons in .1 devices.
To be clear, I cannot independently verify this rumor, which can be traced back to an evleaks tweet. But I'm intrigued by this possibility, so I'm bending my rule about unsubstantiated rumors. And I believe that if Microsoft isn't planning to make this change for Windows Phone 8.1, it should.
And it goes like this: Microsoft will change Windows Phone 8.1 so that the front-facing buttons—Back, Start and Search—can be implemented in software and only appear when the user needs them. This would presumably work as it does in Android today, and according to the tweet, would result in software buttons at the bottom of the screen that might look like so.
There are two reasons I'm all for this change.
One, it works very well in Android. I'd used a Google Nexus 5 for several weeks and have been using a Nexus 7 daily since late July, and both utilize a modern Android version in which what used to be front-facing buttons are now implemented in software. It's a clean look.
Two, as anyone who uses a Windows Phone handset can tell you, today's hardware buttons are far too easy to hit by mistake, especially the Search button. If I had a dollar for every time I found myself looking at the Bing app by mistake in Windows Phone, I'd be able to retire.
Microsoft, you should make this happen.