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Rumor: Windows Phone 8.1 to ditch back button, increase screen size support past 7-inches

Microsoft guru Paul Thurrott is reporting on some new information regarding the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 update aka ‘Blue’. He notes that the info comes from a single source, though he has confidence in the information revealed.

What’s discussed isn’t so much the superficial UI changes or new features but rather core user experience deviations that should cause a stir amongst the Windows Phone faithful.

We won’t recapitulate all of Thurrott’s revelations, but we will highlight a few of the more interesting ones.

  • Universal Binaries – Windows Phone 8.1 looks to have 77% overlap with Windows RT, up from the current 33%.  That will allow developers to more easily (and still optionally) write apps for both platforms going forward. That could have profound implications in the long run for Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
  • Multitasking – Though vague it notes that currently Windows Phone “notifications and background processes are a mess” and this will be fixed in 8.1.
  • Back button is going – Probably the biggest surprise is that the Back button will be eliminated from the hardware requirements. Metrics have revealed that users don’t “get” the logic behind it and that they just use the Windows key most of the time.

Other changes mentioned in the article include Microsoft pushing high-end hardware to get those higher profit margins and bigger displays heading into the 7-10 inch range. Right now, the focus is on low end devices including the Lumia 520, but Microsoft is now evidently going to try for that luxury, boundary pushing gear.

Obviously that’s a lot to chew on and it certainly raises some interesting questions. For instance, if Windows Phone runs into the 7-10 inch display range, what does that mean for RT devices? There has been a lot of talk that RT and Windows Phone would merge and those display resolution changes may be the first move into that category.


Old concept for Windows Phone 8.1 Notification tile

We’re not sure how we feel about the back button being phased out—we’re actually big users of it, but we’re very likely in the minority. If accurate, we’ll have to defer to Microsoft’s metrics on this one, much like how they changed the Search key from context-aware to universal for Bing in Windows Phone 7.5.

Windows Phone 8.1 is expected to be announced early in 2014 with a co-launch of new devices from their OEM partners. Details remain mum on all the changes, but a new Notification Center, ‘Cortana’ voice assistant, app-list sorting, actionable-notifications and other new features are reportedly on the list of major new additions.

Head to Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows for the full scoop then come back here to discuss. 

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Comments

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jumala says:

They shouldn't ditch the back button but perhaps change its function a bit. I use it a lot but I'm not keen how it behaves e.g. with IE... Sometimes I wish to browse back, sometimes leave current page open and close the browser.
Likewise, they should make the Search button more dynamic so you could use it to search in context, not always open Bing.

Don't do this even a idiot like me knows this is bad take out the dam search button put a notification button instead they need be smarter then this before they make a decision like this lets all make comment chaos before ruin Windows phone with something simple like this! But here's my idea rather than removing back button remove search button turn it to a settings/multi-button button that leaves buttons on screen to go back and forward or search the disappear instantly when your not using it

rselim says:

Nnnnnnnnnooooooooo!!!!! We don't need iPhone

CSJr1 says:

I use the back button alot.  If my vote counts, I would like it to remain.    Else we have to start doind like iOS and implement back buttons in apps themselves.
To much change,  I think they are trying to do it because Windows RT doesn't have a physical back button.  But they need to find a better way to merge RT and Windows Phone without losing the back button.

My first reaction was to freak out about the back button, but on second thought it's no big deal.  According to this, the back button will no longer be a requirement.  That doesn't mean it won't be on some handsets and won't still be supported by the OS.  And when you think about it, the only purpose of the back button (as far as functionality) is the ability to kill an app.  This shouldn't ba a problem after GDR3 which allows this functionality through the multitasking interface.

No back button?  You're kidding people don't use it or are confused by it?  I have both a Lumina 925 and HTC One and I use the back button more than I use the Win Key and Android Home button.  I have to disagree with that logic.  Let's have an option where the user decides to use or not use the back button.  

chezm says:

I like the back button...search can go

phonypaul says:

Leave back button alone!!
I guess people using internet explorer are confused. In that case fix the damn internet explorer. Another back button in explorer would do the trick.

Ledo says:

Removing one button is STUPID idea. I mean there is clearly no benefit from hardware point of view as you will still have to include two other buttons so there is no actual space saving in the point of hardware. (Yes, you do save in hardware production costs slightly, but it's not worth the hassle)
It would be much better to remove all the physical buttons at the lower part of the screen and leave only touch user interface. Nokia N9 is prime example of the ui that does not need any physical buttons. To be honest I'm still surprised apple hasn't gotten rid of the last remaining one already.
P.s. The most useless button in WP in my opinion is search button. I don't like bing really that much and most of the time I press it accidently when doing something so it is more of the hinderance than useful feature.... heck they could have integrated search together with windows button...  

freshfelicio says:

I love the back button, I cant live without it!!!

FearL0rd says:

I Hope they upgrade my920 to BLUE. It happened one time with my hd7 and 720.

szilix14 says:

Back button being pushed out?? Existing phones like my Lumia 620 will look ridiculous with a button that can't be used. I used to close running app that way...

Joel H18 says:

Also they need to add custom tones for notifications!

cyber_k9 says:

My hope is that if the "Back button will be eliminated from the hardware requirements" means not that the "Back Button" functionality is going away (I find it weird to use an iPhone now, without the back button!), just that OEMs don't need to include the key itself - which would imply a solution similar to how Android introduced the on-screen buttons for "back"/"home"/etc.  Maybe a "Charm", maybe some sort of gesture?
It'd be a pain for developers to re-code their apps to put in on-screen back-buttons otherwise... :P
Now - for closing apps it would make sense to have an alternate method that doesn't involve "backing out" of the app, which can be a bit cumbersome if someone's left a bunch open by using the Start key often - the "X to close" (and hopefully 'swipe away' too?) mechanic should solve that.  But I think the "back" function is still very important to keep. :P

urseus says:

Back button is the only reason I use this.

yergg says:

I, for one, use the back button all the time. Say it ain't true, Blue, say it ain't true...

frnlh says:

I wish Windows 8 were made more like Windows Phone, not the other way around! Terrible idea to get rid of the back button!

Back button = a Gesture, how charming....
You can manufacture and release a WP8.1 device with or without the back button (HTC?)
and any old or new device will still work anyway
Don't be afraid! 
Your trusted old friend will work all the eternity like it used to be
AND you can refuse to buy a new device without a physical button
Also with the gesture you can even use your device in case your button dies because of over usage...charming, huh?
Even if the search would go you could still use yet another gesture
The Windows [#] Button Long Press should bring up 

Dannay says:

The phone will look weird with only two button :-\ i like my back button i use it all the time, makes switching to different apps well easy

poiman says:

This is what's scary for me. I need to buy a new phone but I don't want to buy a new GDR3 preloaded phone now and in Q1 2014 the new WP8.1 preloaded phones come out with totally new hardware that makes end of 2013 LUMIAs outdated...

I use the back button all the time. If they get rid of it, they will have to add a virtual one to IE.

Darkgift says:

I never use start. I always use the back button.

noknok79 says:

hey wait, they didn't mention the vpn/business feature packed? vpn, i need it please!

sinister1 says:

"Metrics show that users don't get it and just hit the home button" That is the most retarted shit i've heard since the doing away with the start button. What if you clicked on the wrong link or something and just want to click on back to undo?

I like the back button.

pantiko says:

Just put a gesture area on new devices, best thing webOS had, along with the cards that now everybody is copying... Easy, intuitive, awesome... Old devices can still use the back button

drg says:

I hope MS read this thread. We all use the BACK BUTTON! Its a huge additional feature over iOS. Looks like we will all be implementing soft back buttons like on win8 apps but we won't have the same screen real estate. Very dissapointing.

nohra says:

"we’ll have to defer to Microsoft’s metrics on this one, much like how they changed the Search key from context-aware to universal for Bing in Windows Phone 7.5."

That explains a lot... I was wondering why the search button wasn't context sensitive any more since I moved from experience with WP7 straight to 8. I thought the context sensitive aspect was a strong point of the search key. To me, get rid of that button.

odin09 says:

I am a loyal windows phone user but I if they get rid of my back button I will be devastated. When I use my wife's iPhone or ipad it is torturous that I keep looking for a button that isn't there. The software button is just not as good. Hopefully they will rethink this.

ScubaNitrox says:

Back button! We don't need no stinking Back Button!!!

Graven Pshya says:

Even though the rumor says the back button is to be removed from hardware "requirements", that is probably to allow phones that are as big as tablets to not have one. While smaller formed phones have the physical back button still. I'm sure the OS can detect the screen size and whether or not to display a digital back button.

I really really hope they do not ditch the back button. That is one of the reasons I hate iPhone. There is no back button on the iPhone!!!!! All you can do is go home. How stupid is that? If people don't "get it" then they need to learn to "get it". Stop developing products for the lowest common denominator. Many of us do use and love the back button!!!!!

This back button thing is really bothering me now. Losing the back button would be a huge step backwards in my opinion. And trusting Microsoft's metrics may be not the best move either. Aren't these the same metrics that said people don't really use the start button? How stupid was that?

Besides, what could possibly be the benefit of losing the start button? Do they need the space for something else? Is it bothering anybody? Is it breaking anything? Is it costing too much money?

How about we just leave it alone.

I am not sure people should get super worked up over this.  He said the back button is no longer a hardware requirement.  That doesn't mean it will be removed completely.  The way I read this is that the back button will be an option for phone makers.  I suspect it will be removed from budget phones, and kept for high-end phones.  After all, it's probably the high-end users that use this feature the most.
 
I will say this, a lot of apps won't navigate properly without some ability to navigate backwards.

webbahboy says:

I use the back button all the time. Hope it doesn't go away.

chmun77 says:

Of all things, Microsoft is learning from Apple to remove the Back button?! What???! Why can't MS learn how to put in a good notification center, or grouping of tiles, etc rather than removing the precious Back button????! C'mon MS! Stop sucking up on Apple on the wrong thing! Even Apple is getting smarter now by copying good stuffs from other platforms like Android, yet MS is moving backward!
Oh Please! If this is true, I think Windows Phone will realy reach EOL within 2 years..... Well done MS and now Nokia is gone too.....

Common merge Windows RT and Windows phone 8 already!!! WP8 is awesome so is RT, but both platform lack features that the counterpart doesn't so the merge is absolutely perfect. BRING Swipe from LEFT to change app to WP8 and swipe from top to bottom to close app etc. to WP8 2 or 3 apps on same screen might work well on bigger displays!! WOW i can already see what the merge would like which is AWESOME!!!

JiroJarin says:

They shouldn't ditch the back button I mean how are we gonna close the apps? Even multitasking is in the back button. Never ditch the back button for dumb people who are always touching the Home button to exit apps and then complains that their phone is getting slow and their battery drains so fast. I hope you get my point

JiroJarin says:

They shouldn't ditch the back button I mean, how are we gonna close apps? Even multitasking is in the back button. And also you're ditching it because of dumb people who always use the home button and think they closed their apps not to mention who are complaining about their battery life and their phone is getting slow. I hope you get my point

JiroJarin says:

They shouldn't ditch the back button I mean how are we gonna close apps and do a multitasking? And the reason you're ditching it is because of the dumb people who always use the home button to close apps thinking that they really closed it and not to mention, complaining about short battery life or the phone getting slow. I hope you get my point

Dragenox says:

Every thing is fine, but I guess most would agree they use the back button more than any other on their WP

DaytonaGTS says:

I use the back button all the time, especially browsing articles on WPCentral

SMMinke says:

How then do we pull up a list of running apps... Assuming that the Windows button will be for the SIRI Killer "Cortana" or whatever they are calling it these days. Seriously softies... Don't call it that. Two-Syllables max. Hell, one even better.

Blu3V3nom07 says:

Hmm. I mean, I bet you could just swipe to the left, or something. I doubt they would ignore us power-users..
Interesting, indeed.

Ticomfreak says:

Maybe the back button could pull up the left charms? ;)

rysliv says:

I just dont understand how removing the Back button will improve anything. The Search button is probably going to stay, I don't see why it too would be removed.
Any removal of any hardware button just means more UI clutter, I don't want a back button inside an app, the button is already convinently placed where it is. 

demonp82 says:

I would like to spare some thoughts on back button. Like other 500 comments said I also say a No-no for removing it, but also I think it should be redesigned.
It will need 2 fixes (one of which we will get in GDR3) it is a close from multitask and taping and activating app while it still scrolls. 
For now it is quite annoying to close apps by tapping 100 times a back button. 
Overlapping with WinRT: I don't want windows on my phone. WP is good enough for me. Just add functions and polish an existing things.  
If they screw it up like Apple did to their iOS, than I will get a simple OS-free phone.

dirtyvu says:

With Windows being unified, the battle is on between whether to add phone features to Windows RT and have RT be the new Windows Phone operating system. Or having the Windows Phone RT OS eventually replace Windows RT. Only one can really survive. A waste of resources to support two separate OS's for ARM. And Thurrott is the ultimate defender of Windows Phone. He praises WP8 at every opportunity and lambasts anything Surface because he is intelligent enough to know that only one can survive and he's put his chips on Windows Phone. The likely winner is most likely Windows RT because its code base is closer to Windows 8.

 

The disappearance of the back button in a future version of Windows Phone lends further evidence to Windows RT eventually winning out. The back button is not a feature of Windows 8 or Windows RT. But the back button is key to how apps interact on Windows Phone. It would make far more sense for RT to be the tablet/phone OS as it can share apps with Windows 8. Windows Phone is too different from Windows 8.  Using Windows Phone OS as their default ARM OS means that Microsoft will have to maintain 2 operating systems which doesn't fit their unification goal.  Going with Windows RT and moving phone features into it does fit their goal.

Nathan Novak says:

Why are they gonna break app compatibility again? Hey we don't have enough apps... Lets make the developers make new ones... Again! Ugh! They should've given Windows 8 a back button to start with!

gofunk says:

Getting rid of the back button...... That's just stupid. How are we going to switch through windows by holding it and what if i what to keep an open and not close it? Will the windows button now close an app completely removing multitasking?

+1 for thinking its a stuipd idea. Without it doesn't Windows Phone just become iOS with less apps and the apps in alphabetical order.
Back button is central to the whole user experiance.

eugie says:

Because windows 8 has no back button now all apps and games will run on both

zacharyaller says:

    I just dont see them dithcing the back button without also ditching the search button, that would create an ugly offcenter button placement. Maybe they will change it into something else, like a menu/multitasking button. I would definetly take this rumor with a grain of salt. 

hamphlet says:

I'm a back buttoneer.

drozdpat says:

Just another attempt to ditance themselves from Nokia hardware!!

infin says:

NO BACK BUTTON?
Y DO DIS?!?!?!

blegs38552 says:

Use the back button all of the time. Can see ditching it as a requirement, but hopefully, it will retain it's functionality for existing phones.

edhill86 says:

they should keep the back button, its good to have it and the start button,
 
having windows rt and windows phone merge into one system, im not too sure on that, as i like that the surface is still a full operating system, rather than like android and ios, where it needs a mother system to work with it

Grizlyadams says:

"don't get it" ??? Really? It would be interesting to know how many of those that don't get the back button came from iOS devices...

Saurabh Roy1 says:

Going the iSheep way!!
MS is getting it all wrong. It is killing the things that makes WP different!
All of us have to bear the brunt of some douchebag users!

 

Clement 88 says:

Please please please Microsoft, don't cancel the back button in windows phone!!!!!!!!!!!

marcwagz says:

im just letting Nokia, samsung and MS know...
I will never buy a WP without a back button
 
 
WTF this is one of the features of the operating system I hate the apple system all you can do is go back to start, I dont alr\ways want to go back to start sometimes i just want to go back one page
What a joke
back to designing phones for clueless idiots I see

On a related note, will the 920 and 820 on AT&T ever see an official 8.1 update from the carrier?
Seems like a shaft job, if not.

Evster88 says:

I'll be upset if they actually get rid of the back button. I use it constantly...

TechFreak1 says:

I just made this on user voice (searched for other postings about it but nothing came up), http://windowsphone.uservoice.com/forums/101801-feature-suggestions/suggestions/4571179-do-not-remove-the-back-button-
vent your anger and outrage!, only way they can see that they surveyed a bunch sheep and tin cans lol.

MikeSo says:

The back button is only useful because we've gotten used to it! The concept of it MAKES NO SENSE as a universal button.
 
I don't mind if it's kept around, but getting rid of it is a good idea. Much better to have a Back function inside apps that need it. We LITERALLY only need it because we have no other way of really closing out apps - and since we get that now, the back button is superfluous as a system level function. 
I can guarantee that once we get the "X to close apps" function, extremely few of you will ever use the Back button outside of an app again, other than as a way to switch between apps, which could be done with another button (preferably by holding down the Windows button, and moving voice search/command to the Search button instead) or by re-assigning the Back button to work as a menu/switch button.

gsmhelper says:

BACK button is great invention as most of iOS app has a back button on the top... Why Why Why does MS make it go away. Why? 100% agree on people using Home button that they are noobs/retarded.

jh20001 says:

Removing the back button wouldn't be smart at all. If a small number of people are confused by a simple idea, then let them skip using it. Don't eliminate it from those who make a lot of use out of it. I personally use the back button every single day. Mostly to make sure the application/window closes when I am done....or going back in a browser. Take that away and it would drive me mad. I know I'm not alone. 

If they get rid of the Back button, I might as well switch to the iPhone. I like the new iOS7 design because it looks more like WP, and having no back button on WP would remove the main UI feature that improves it over the iPhone. I really love WP, but I'm sure the app selection on iOS would help ease the pain. No "back" button on WP would be making my decision for me.
 
Microsoft, please don't fall into the hipster minimalist mentality that wrecked the Gmail Compose redesign and countless other useful apps. These super cool hipsters are doing qualitative analysis but not quantitative analysis. Don't do the same with the Back button.

offbeatbop says:

As a developer, the increase in overlap with RT is awesome news. Speaking to colleagues and freinds that do freelance work, this was one of the main reasons they didn't want to be bothered with the new MS ecosystem. I figured they'd eventually make it easier to create a universla codebase. Glad to see it happening this soon.
 
Fixing the notifications is equally awesome news. It's probably my only legitimate gripe with the platform. Apps like Viber, WhatsApp and Skype are seriously inconsistent with toast notifications and tile updates. Reading the reviews for most messaging apps echo this sentiment. If they can get this resolved there will be a lot more positive word of mouth.
 
Now If they can convince Instagram to get onboard around the tie blue is released WP8 could really takeoff. I've told countless people how great the platform is and so many have mentioned lack of an official Instagram app. 
 

The back button is the only way to close multitasking apps and go "back" in Internet Explorer. Why remove it?

jamz82277 says:

The only problem I have with them removing the back button is that if you hit the back button, you get the previous state of the app you were using while tapping the icon for the app again effectively "restarts" the application. If hitting the app tile would bring you back to the app's previous state (same page or position in the app you were using), I wouldn't care that they removed the back button.

Rolandh says:

I use the Back button now and again, but if I want to leave an app open & just use another appat the same time, e.g. listen to music while sending a message, browsing, using facebook and Twitter then I just use thew Windows button. I always use the Search Button for Sound Search & reading QR Codes as I've not seen an alternative using IE, I also use the Search Button regularly for doing quick Searches that don't always need me visiting a certain website.  Maybe they should just move the Search & Back Buttons to the left hand edge as physical buttons & have the Windows Button on the front.
Another alternative, Have just the Windows Button on the front, then have a swipe up for Search & a physical button on Lefthand edge with a long press to bring up the Multitasking list & multiple presses to close apps like the back buton currently does, then put the back button in the app menu.
Or change the UI to use the Windows Button to bring up the app list, right to left swipe to bring up the Windows 8/8.1 Right hand Charms Bar, Left to Right swipe to bring up the Windows 8/8.1 Multtasking bar, Swipe up for the Menu bar with Back button in there & Swipe down to bring up the current Notification bar (or whatever it's called) Showing Clock, Wifi, BT, GPS Dot, Vibrate icon, Signal Strength/4G/HSDPA/HSDPA+/3G/GPRS/EDGE connection, then just swipe more central of the Screen to Scroll around apps.
Personally I'd go for the latter if Microsoft want to merge WP 8 & Windows RT as it'd be more intuitive for anyone who uses Windows 8 but not a WP 8 phone to come over to a Windows 8 Phone. This is probably the main reason why Apple keep the same version of iOS on both iPhones/iPod Touch & iPad along with Google Android on Tablets & Phones being identical apart from being skinned differently by manufacturers.  If Microsoft successfully pull off merging WP and Windows RT I can see Apple doing the same by putting OSX onto iPhones, iPads & iPods ( but obviusly modifed slightly to make it usable on small touchscreen devices). Canonical's Ubuntu Touch OS videos show a good way to merge Desktop & mobile Devices into one. Buy a Windows RT Phone get the WP UI, drop it into a docking station to charge and provide HDMI out and USB Ports and you've got an ultra portable device that's also your phone.
Roland 

Aniket Bhat says:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRVC4BKWaP8
Guys, This is a concept UI I saw on YouTube. If Microsoft makes this happen, then I tell You WP will have the best UI ever. 
Sorry for rustling up this thread. But this video is worth it.

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