Let’s talk about virtual buttons.
In the past few months we’ve started seeing leaks of Windows Phone devices with virtual buttons. The overwhelming response from you has been anti-virtual buttons. You comment on articles, on Facebook, and send us Tweets about this. It seems that Windows Phone users do not like the idea of virtual buttons. Today we hope to change your mind at least a little bit.
What are virtual buttons?
First thing first, some of you might not be 100% familiar with what exactly we mean by “virtual buttons.” The buttons we are talking are the back, Start, and search keys found underneath the display on every Windows Phone device. Current Windows Phone devices have two types of buttons in this area: capacitive and “physical.” The capacitive buttons are flat and usually vibrate when you touch them. A “physical” button needs to be physically pressed down in order to work.
Virtual buttons are an extension of the touchscreen. The bottom of the display is extended to where the hardware buttons usually go. That extra screen space is used to display the same three buttons that usually go under the screen. You can see this mocked-up in the image above.
Why is this good?
Virtual buttons have many benefits. First, manufacturers can use more area for the display and not have to worry about the hardware buttons. This means you get more screen real estate without having a bigger phone. Here is where people will point out “but the extra screen is just displaying the buttons. You can’t even use it.” That is only partially true.
To see virtual buttons in action we look to Android. It’s true that the virtual buttons are usually present at the bottom of the screen making it seem like the display isn’t actually any bigger. However, certain applications can make the virtual buttons hide. So, for example, when watching Netflix they will disappear and the entire screen can be used for the video. A lot of games will also do this.
This flexibility would never be possible with hardware buttons. Back in the day when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone with a virtual keyboard (which was a strange proposition at the time) he was thinking the same thing. Why have a physical keyboard constantly taking up space on your phone when you don’t even need it all the time? A virtual keyboard is there when you need it just like virtual buttons.
Capacitive and physical buttons require extra components in order to function. These components have to fit inside the device with everything else, which takes up space. Virtual buttons work with the same exact components as the touchscreen. Removing the extra components gives manufacturers the ability to either add more battery or make the device thinner. Win/win.
The last reason for why virtual buttons are great is pricing. As mentioned above, capacitive and physical buttons need their components to be able to function. This adds cost to the phone. If the manufacturer can simply make a slightly larger display to accommodate for hardware buttons that makes the device cheaper. This is great for developing countries and people who want cheap phones.
Virtual buttons are the future. They are more flexible, allow for better phone design, and cut down on costs. There is really no reason to not love virtual buttons. I, for one, hope my next Windows Phone device has virtual buttons. I hope this editorial changed your mid just a little bit. Let me know what you think in the comments below!