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Are there any real UX reasons to remove hardware buttons from Android Nexus devices?

Nexus 4

  • In above Nexus 4 the bottom part is wasted space - won't adding buttons like menu/back/home make it more useful?

  • Since there are no hardware buttons, Android is displaying buttons everywhere in the screen which reduces available display space for applications

Basically the bottom part of the screen is wasted by displaying software buttons and reduces space left for applications.

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It might be more long lasting with no physical buttons to wear out. Ever since iOS allowed you to go to the home screen with a 5 finger pinch I use that to reduce wear on the physical button. I only use the physical button to turn it on. –  obelia Jan 19 '13 at 18:08
    
It's not just the Nexus 4, it's standard practice for all android devices starting with Android 4.0 (3.0 for tablets) –  Ben Brocka Jan 20 '13 at 4:05
    
I think parity with the tablets is perhaps one reason. –  DA01 Jan 27 '13 at 6:29
    
The hardware button on my iPhone4 broke from me using triple-click all the time to invert colors for easy night-time viewing. Buttons fail. –  New Alexandria Apr 15 '13 at 18:48
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4 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Soft buttons give more flexibility as you can hide them (and have additional screen space) in some situations and show them in others. Also, it is cheaper to produce without hardware buttons as you have fewer components and switches to deal with.

Whether it causes a lot of confusion from people that are used to always having the buttons visible remains to be seen. However my personal opinion is that it was a good call.

Edit: I forgot to mention that they increase reliability. Physical buttons have often proven problematic and have been the cause of failure on a number of phones. iPhone 4's have a well documented problem with their physical home button that is easily avoided with soft buttons.

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+1 A better question would be why they are still present on other devices! –  Benny Skogberg Jan 19 '13 at 17:37
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I think there's a level of comfort in having something physical to pound on if the software locks up. It will be interesting to see how this is accepted by the masses. I wonder if there's a paper clip hole to do a hardware reset. –  obelia Jan 19 '13 at 18:13
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@BennySkogberg it's because sometimes I need to feel a button (for example, to switch silent mode on. It's really easy to do with a hardware switch). I think that some buttons should remain hardware. –  alexeypegov Jan 19 '13 at 20:08
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@alexeypegov I don't think there is any disagreement that a physical button is 'nicer' to use. It's a tradeoff between that and a lot of other benefits. –  JohnGB Jan 20 '13 at 14:11
    
There's a hardware reset on my Nexus 7 actioned by holding down the power and volume buttons: however knowing that its there requires one to go hunting in the instruction book. –  PhillipW Jan 27 '13 at 10:03
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I think it has to do with Google future plans with the design of Android's UI. Maybe the next major release like Key Lime Pie doesn't use the traditional back, home and apps buttons. Maybe we'll see a new "Google Now" like launcher. Not having buttons also allow for evolving the UI to have more gesture support - like the BB10 and Ubuntu. Personally, I'll be happy to see that hardware buttons go away.

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Hi Rehan, welcome to UX.se! Can you provide some examples of what you are talking about? Maybe certain modifications in the devices which helped you lead to your conclusions. Right now your answer, though not wrong, does not give reasoning as to why your current stand on the matter. –  rk. Apr 15 '13 at 20:56
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When I had an Android I often found myself neglecting the physical buttons, often to my own detriment. You spend a large amount of time engaged with the touchscreen, to the point you can forget those other buttons are there. This became a problem when developers would use the single menu button to stuff all sorts of extra options in while also having separate choices on the screen. I would regularly miss functionality. Simplifying the inputs seems like it will benefit the user in the end.

(Indeed, the primary reason I moved from the Android platform to iOS was the inconsistent use of the physical buttons, where some apps needed it and others did not.)

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A coworker brought up to me that he thought apple should remove the hardware button on the next iPhone iteration. As an android user with soft keys, I was in agreement with him - not only on the premise that I was used to soft buttons and liked them, but that I think the hardware button forces the user to abandon their touch experience. What I mean by this is that, if someone is using a touch device as their primary input action, they will be used to that as their environment. If the device forces the user to switch between touch and hardware inputs, this may cause a broken experience. People are just used to this with iPhones and many other phones, but I think this is the primary downfall of these types of devices.

I also agree with what else was said in that this gives more flexibility to the designers.

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protected by Ben Brocka Apr 15 '13 at 20:32

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