Write for Android Analyse

Android Analyse

Filter Search

Only this category...

Why Capacitive Buttons Need to Die Already

By Yousuf Haque - March 9, 2013 6

Android Analyse 12 comments

Newton’s first law of motion says plastic is good for a mobile phone body

Android Analyse 3 comments

Android Devs Making Waves: Expense Manager, Hashnote, Work Quietly and Notif

Android Analyse 5 comments

Why the Chromebook Pixel and the Nexus 7 have Apple scared

Android Analyse 4 comments

Nadav Fima talks to Android Analyse about Cliffhanger and Android development

Android Analyse 3 comments

Scroogled: Microsoft’s Desperate and Ongoing Attempt to Play at Being Relevant

Android Analyse 3 comments

Is the Kindle Fire dominating Android tablets?

Android Analyse No comments yet

Is Nokia thinking about Android?

Android Analyse No comments yet

My Android in 2012: Darren Kemp

Play Music

In October of 2011, Google unveiled the Galaxy Nexus, Ice Cream Sandwich and the death of the capacitive buttons. On the bottom of the Galaxy Nexus; screen, there were 3 icons, a back button, a home button, and a recent apps button. Noticeably missing from this lineup was a menu button. Google wanted to do away with a menu button and introduce the concept of an ‘overflow’ button on screen.

Manufacturers need to stop using capacitive and hardware buttons (I’m looking at you, Samsung.) Hardware buttons get dirty, become flimsy, and break. Capacitive buttons take up precious screen space that could otherwise have glorious pixels. They also break what otherwise would be a clean slate of glass. Look at the Nexus 4 and Galaxy Nexus, their lack of buttons on the face of the screen make it look like a beautiful slab of glass.

Even the power users can agree that having on screen keys provides much more customisability. The Paranoid Android ROM took full advantage of the on screen keys by making them customisable in terms of shortcuts, colors and even hiding it altogether in favor of pie controls. Due to the flexible nature of on screen keys, you now have an entirely new way of navigating your device. There’s virtually no end to the kinds of things you can do with on screen keys.

The stock features of the keys are what most people are going to see, and in that category, on screen buttons are still superior to capacitive buttons. Virtual buttons are dynamic; they can mold to whatever you are doing with the device. If you are watching the video, they go into a low profile mode, if the keyboard is open, the back button changes to a hide keyboard button. The overflow and search buttons appear and disappear when necessary and the Google Now shortcut is always a swipe away while not being IN the way. The menu button needed to go, it hid functionality and the action bar along the top or bottom idea is much better. It shows users important functions while still providing a way to hide rarely used options through the overflow menu.

Android needs a unified experience. OEM’s will always try to customise their ROM through TouchWiz and Sense, however there is a need for a navigation mechanism that is ubiquitous. This will happen once OEM’s decide to stop trying to one up everyone else with their weird idea for optimal button layouts.

Yousuf Haque
Yousuf Haque

Yousuf is a student at Stony Brook University in New York, USA. He is studying computer science and has a keen interest in user experience and interaction design. Most of his time is spent coding and designing apps, however he spends his free time convincing literally everyone that anything you can do, Android can do it better. For his daily drivers Yousuf Haque uses a HTC Evo 4G LTE and a Google Nexus 10.

Win a smartrphone

Optional: Connect with or just comment with the form below.

By choosing your preferred social service above, an Android Analyse account will automatically be created for you (it takes about 5 seconds!). Details from your chosen service will be used to create your Android Analyse account, such as your name, email address (never shown to anyone) and avatar. Too easy.

  • Connect and comment with your Google identity.
  • Connect and comment with your Facebook identity.
  • Connect and comment with your Twitter identity.
  • Comment with your existing Android Analyse account.


  1. 2 Ken

    “Capacitive buttons take up precious screen space that could otherwise have glorious pixels.” This doesn’t sound right.

    Doesn’t onscreen buttons do this instead of capacitive buttons? And if we’re going the custom roms way, it’s also possible to have onscreen buttons and disable the hardware capacitive buttons. The existence of PIE in PA stems from the fact that the onscreen buttons take up precious screen estate, not the other way round.

    • Yousuf Haque 3 Yousuf Haque

      Yes, on screen buttons take up space on the screen, but they can be hidden, and they also rotate, go into low-profile mode etc, capactive buttons are static and can never be hidden. If you’re going to sacrifice screen real estate for capacitive buttons anyway, you might as well make them on screen and then tweak-able .

      If you have a custom ROM with capacitive buttons, you would probably just keep those and not have virtual buttons. If you have both, the virtual buttons are taking up screen space that doesn’t need to be taken up. However if you love pie controls, or the Google Now shortcut so much that you need the navbar, go for it. I personally don’t like the redundancy of having capacitive buttons and a navbar to go along with it.

      I do like the pie controls, and to a seasoned user, they’re great. However they’re not very good for a new user. I’ve handed lay people a paranoid android phone and they had no idea what to do with it and they often forgot that you could pull up the pie controls. It’s awesome for power users, not so much for beginners who haven’t the learning curve yet.

      • 2 Ken

        Sadly, they can’t be hidden in most scenarios (video playback is the only area where it makes sense), and looking at my Nexus 4, the bezel doesn’t exactly extol your point. Comparing to my wife’s S3, the difference is apparent in terms of screen real estate.

        My point is, you have your preferences, but don’t be blind to the alternative viewpoint. Capacitive buttons don’t take up more of the front bezel, at least not for current models. Of all the models out there that use exclusively onscreen buttons, none of them have eliminated the lower/upper lip to the point where you can make that statement. :(

        Taking out the custom rom factor, and adding in the new beginners, it’s even harder to deny that consistently present hardware buttons make it easier for them instead of onscreen buttons that change and disappear/appear based on situations. My wife basically eschewed a brand new Nexus 4 just because she was irritated with the onscreen buttons taking up screen estate constantly, and the familiarity with proper buttons. Not that I agree with her, but that’s what imho most newbies are comfortable with.

        • Yousuf Haque 3 Yousuf Haque

          Fair enough. However I still do think that having standard on screen buttons across all Android phones gives users a standard navigation option with the same mechanism, while also giving power users the option to tweak their own navbars

  2. 1 D Saif

    Well said!

    I can hide on screen buttons and use GMD Gesture Control or LMT Launcher. The flexibility with on screen buttons is awesome!

  3. James Bloomfield 1 James Bloomfield

    Fully agree with this. A phone having physical or capacitive buttons will be a huge reason for me not to buy one, having your phone look like a solid sheet of glass when it’s off is such an advantage in terms of looks.

Your Response...

Start of page