Boy Genius Report has posted some thorough alleged specs for Google’s next unannounced Nexus phone, possibly dubbed the Nexus 4G. Many of the specs are what you’d expect from a flagship Google phone, such as a dual-core processor, 1 GB of RAM, 1080p video capture and LTE connectivity.
But what’s most intriguing about this rumor is the possibility that Google will completely do away with hardware buttons on the next version of Android, called “Ice Cream Sandwich” or Android 4.0. The home, menu, back and search buttons will presumably become part of the software.
It wouldn’t be an unexpected change. Android 3.0 Honeycomb, the software version optimized for tablets, already lacks physical buttons, and Google has made clear its intentions to merge smartphones and tablets onto a single software version with Ice Cream Sandwich. But it’s harder to picture how Android tablets’ button-free concept would work on Android phones.
In Honeycomb, Google relegates the home and back buttons to a strip along the bottom of the screen. That way, the menu always aligns with the tablet’s orientation, so there’s no wrong way to hold the device.
But phones don’t have that issue. Sure, you may jump into landscape mode to watch a video, or to use the physical keyboard on a handset like the Droid, but the navigation buttons are always within thumb’s reach either way.
Besides, I kind of like physical buttons on Android phones. They’re not as elegant as the iPhone’s massive home button, but their omnipresence means that you usually know how to escape, search or adjust settings (except when developers don’t use the buttons, which is a problem for some apps).
And whereas iPhone apps have always built navigation into the software, Android apps have always relied on buttons. In their absence, those legacy apps will always need some kind of independent navigation bar, like the kind used in Honeycomb. If that’s the case, what’s the point?
I’m not saying Google can’t come up with an elegant way to ditch physical buttons. Maybe we’ll see some swipe-based navigation like that of the Blackberry Playbook. But if the Nexus 4G is real, and it’s doing away with buttons for good, I’ll miss ’em.