The familiar trio of buttons that Samsung had standardized on starting with the Galaxy S3 in the U.S. may forever change if Google has its way in trying to influence Samsung’s hardware designs on the company’s Galaxy phones and tablets. With the latest Android 4.4 KitKat software update, Google had made changes to Android’s code that may make one of Samsung’s button on its Android products appear redundant.
Today, Samsung’s Galaxy S, Galaxy Tab, and Galaxy Note lines all have a physical home button flanked on either side by a capacitive touch back and capacitive touch menu key. The latest KitKat change may make the hardware menu button on Samsung’s device appear redundant, and this could potentially force Samsung to change its designs moving forward to create a better user experience.
Considering that Google has for some time been urging manufacturers to dump a hardware menu button on their phones, the move really shouldn’t come as a surprise. To reinforce this position with Android KitKat, Google has made a change that now forces apps to display a “overflow menu button” within the app, negating the need for a hardware button on the device itself.
Other manufacturers had abandoned having a hardware Android navigation key for the menu command for some time, including HTC, Google’s Nexus range, and even LG on the G2. Some devices–like HTC’s–have physical buttons for the home and back keys while others have shifted the Android navigation keys into the software so that the buttons occupy a small section on the lower portion of the screen itself.
And though Samsung may have to change its design plans for the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 that will be flagships for 2014 next year, the move will have benefits for consumers.
For one, currently, devices with physical keys offer a rather confusing experience depending on the app. On some apps, hitting the hardware menu button would perform the same function as tapping on the display to launch the overflow menu key. On other apps, hitting one key would yield no results, forcing users to default to the other key. This experience varied between apps, and it was not consistent, and it looks like Google will be forcing some consistency into the UI and experience for all Android apps by mandating this change with KitKat.
Google engineer Adam Powell had turned to Git to post his rant about the menu key on Android hardware:
Always show overflow buttons on action bars The menu button is not pining, it's passed on! This button is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to a flagship device it'd be pushing up the daisies! THIS IS AN EX-BUTTON!!
We’ll have to see how fast Samsung could make this change, but according to Android Police the change is already in effect on devices upgraded to KitKat.
Whether the move will streamline things or create chaos and confusion amongst Galaxy owners is unclear. Microsoft attempted a similar radical change when it went from Windows 7 to Windows 8 by abandoning the Start button, a move that angered customers and forced Microsoft to bring back some Start button functionality on Windows 8.1.