Recent rumors suggest that Microsoft may be planning to kill off the back button in Windows Phone 8.1. While the requirement for a hardware back button will likely be dropped, sources familiar with Microsoft's plans have revealed to The Verge that the software maker will replace it with an onscreen version if it goes ahead with the plans. We understand that Microsoft is experimenting with dropping the hardware requirements for back, Start, and search buttons in an effort to lower costs for device manufacturers. Any potential devices without hardware buttons will have buttons on the screen.
It's not clear how this will impact the Windows Phone user interface, but the virtual buttons are said to be a black bar at the bottom of the screen of devices without physical buttons. Sources say Microsoft is currently experimenting with the onscreen buttons to ensure apps that have been built around the back button functionality continue to work. Windows Phone developers originally balked at the news of a back button removal, but it appears that Microsoft isn't killing off the functionality fully. The buttons in testing are said to look similar to how Google uses its own onscreen buttons on its Nexus Android devices.
Microsoft last significantly changed its Windows Phone hardware specifications when it allowed manufactures to create devices without a camera hardware button or compass, gyro, and primary camera. Alcatel was the first OEM to release a Windows Phone handset without a camera button, while most opted to include the option. Microsoft's potential hardware requirement changes in Windows Phone 8.1 are said to represent an effort to encourage additional OEMs to create low-cost Windows Phones. Specifically, Microsoft is targeting mobile operators who typically license reference designs from Qualcomm and create low-cost devices. Less hardware specifications for Windows Phone may encourage device makers to opt for Windows Phone at the low-end alongside their Android handsets.
We're told that any future hardware specification changes are also related to Microsoft's recent efforts to encourage HTC to put Windows Phone on its own Android handsets. With a lack of Microsoft's unique capacitive back, Start, and search buttons, it eases product design planning and costs for manufacturers to experiment with Windows Phone. Microsoft is expected to deliver its Windows Phone 8.1 software on new devices in early 2014.