Windows Phone "Blue" to add option for on-screen command buttons?

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A leaked screenshot, posted by @evkeaks and labelled as being from Windows Phone "Blue", has added credence to suggestions that Microsoft is adding an option to allow for on-screen versions of the standard command buttons (back, Windows, search) in the next version of its mobile platform. Currently Microsoft obliges manufacturers to include these as physical or capacitive keys below the screen, as part of the standard Windows Phone hardware requirements.

Image source: @evleaks

Microsoft has made no detailed public comment on the feature set on the next major version of Windows Phone, so any discussion about features remains speculative. However, an option for on-screen version of the command keys would make sense. Firstly, it could potentially lower costs for device manufacturers, and secondly it would allow greater flexibility in hardware designs.

The impact of the first of these would be relatively minor, at most $1-2 per device, but, with smartphones costs dropping below the $100 barrier, even a seemingly small differences can have a notable impact of the cost of the device for an end consumer. The impact of the second of these is potentially more significant as it could theoretically allow manufacturers to release Windows Phone and Android devices with very similar, if not identical, hardware.

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Mock up of Windows Phone with on-screen command keys

The option for on-screen command keys invites a comparison with Google's Android. With the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich release Android adopted a similar system, with physical keys becoming less important in favour of customisable on-screen navigation keys. 

Windows Phone is unlikely to follow exactly the same course, given the relative importance of the command keys in the platform's design paradigm. Furthermore, physical buttons are arguably more in line with Windows Phone's modernist approach to design and emphasis on ease of use. Nonetheless, an on-screen option for the command buttons would undoubtedly add flexibility for device manufacturers and could help Microsoft grow the platform with the Windows Phone "Blue" / Windows Phone 8.1 release.

Source / Credit: Twitter