Why Samsung doesn’t ditch the hardware home button on its phones and tablets

The mobile industry has called out Samsung on many things, but one of the most recurring criticisms leveled at the Korean manufacturer’s smartphones and tablets – especially by the tech-savvy and geekier folks – is their continued use of the hardware home button. Every manufacturer except Samsung has embraced them at one time or the other (Sony has put them on every phone for about a year now, LG has done so on its latest flagships, and HTC will be using them on its next One flagship) – people had been hoping against hope that Samsung would finally “see sense” and do the same, but it was not to be. So the question is: why has Samsung remained adamant in their stance to use a hardware home button, apart from the fact that the Galaxy S5 needs it for the fingerprint scanning functionality?

To answer that question, drawing parallels with Apple, Samsung’s largest (and perhaps only true) rival, is necessary. Say what you will about the Cupertino giant, but something the company has always understood is the mind of the average consumer, the consumer that just needs a device that works and is not fond of change. Apple took years to implement multitasking so they could implement it well and not cause sudden battery drains on the millions of iPhones it has sold, iOS’ much needed visual refresh took an equal amount of time, and, most of all, Apple has stuck with the one-button philosophy it embraced when it started out with the iPhone.

What’s the takeaway? Well, it’s that Apple has been intelligent enough to know that they have millions of consumers that would be instantly alienated if it would begin introducing major changes too often. Sure, it has put off those that want their mobile devices to come up with something new and exciting frequently, but such folks, at the end of the day, are a tiny minority when compared to the standard smartphone (or let’s just say phone) user, a minority Apple simply does not care about.

It’s the same position Samsung is in. It’s no secret that Samsung’s phones and tablets capture a majority of the world-dominating OS that is Android, with the Galaxy S flagships alone having sold more than 200,000,000 units. When you consider the fact that it’s actually the mid-range and low-end models that sell most instead of the flagship, you can imagine just how many Galaxy devices are in use in the world today (it’s a number that Apple’s iPhones can’t match, though that’s not exactly a good comparison since Apple doesn’t focus on the low-end and mid-range market.)


And that, exactly, is what makes ditching the hardware home button and opting for fully capacitive or onscreen buttons a difficult task for Samsung. Millions of Android users, for whom Samsung’s version of Android is Android, are used to having a hardware home button in the middle and two capacitive keys on each side. When they upgrade to a new Galaxy phone (or tablet), they expect the new device to have the same setup – you could argue that just swapping out the hardware button for a capacitive key wouldn’t be so drastic, but when you’re talking about millions of consumers, even such changes can be pretty substantial. The hardware home button is something that makes Samsung’s devices stand out from the rest and something a lot of users are familiar with, and if Google hadn’t made the recent apps key a requirement in KitKat, Samsung would likely have stuck with the menu key as well.

For Google, it is quite easy to go around making changes to Android, as Nexus phones and tablets, despite their great price-vs-quality ratio, take up just a tiny part of the Android market, and Android in its stock avatar isn’t used by any major manufacturer. HTC, a company that has been losing market share at a steady pace, is even worse and has made drastic changes to its navigation button scheme in a span of three years. The 2012 One X went with the standard tradition of a recent apps, home and back key, the 2013 One adopted a rather silly two-button setup with just a home and back key, and now, the upcoming One will be aligning with Google’s vision of fully onscreen keys.

For those who’ve bought HTC’s phones, each new flagship has bought a substantial change in the way they use their phone, giving them no sense of consistency despite buying a device from the same company. Consistency is also the reason why Samsung continues to stick to its Android interface, which is, in my opinion, the least attractive of all other manufacturer skins. But like Apple, which took considerable time to adopt a new look for iOS, Samsung simply cannot come up with a new interface all of a sudden, which is perhaps the reason why each iteration of TouchWiz makes changes in a few apps and parts of the OS while keeping everything else the same.

In the end, it’s not about whether a change is for the better or for the worse (the reason why this article is lacking any discussion on the pros and cons of the hardware home button/onscreen buttons), it’s about how it affects the end-users who expect their phone to work the same way their previous phone did, without having to learn something new every time they upgrade. A focus on simplicity and consistency is what has made people fall in love with the iPhone almost religiously, and, whether the tech-savvy population likes it or not, what has made the word Galaxy a name that’s almost synonymous with smartphones globally.

Well, that and the billions Samsung has spent on marketing, but you get the point.

Edit: It seems many in the comments section are of the opinion that I am someone who doesn’t like the hardware home button, but that’s not the case. Personally, I can make do with either hardware or software buttons (especially now that there’s a recent apps key on Samsung phones as well), but the article’s intention was not to say whether the hardware home button is good or bad, but to point out why it cannot be removed from Samsung’s devices just like that, no matter whether people like it or not.

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  1. Better have it outside the screen.

    • Yes, I fully agree. Having the buttons on-screen takes up screen space at times. For example, I was looking at the new One (M8) and found it to take up a good amount of the screen on certain instances and then it would go to full screen.
      A disadvantage w/ the physical home button was annoying on my Note 3 at first because I would hit the home button by accident until I put a tempered glass screen protector on it so now the home button no longer bulges out and is somewhat hidden.
      I also own the original Note 10.1 and am glad that there’s no physical home button because I couldn’t imagine how many times I would press it accidentally.
      In regards to the article, I can’t image mass confusion just because one-single button is removed. I think people can figure it out or am I being too naive?

    • The Home Button/Key is perfectly placed. It works just as it is supposed to…

      It also doubles as the UNLOCK button (when, of course, the phone is locked) which is often a horrible nuisance. At least it should be easily defeated so it is not constantly being pressed when the phone is in a pants pocket. It matters not which way it is placed, up, down, front, back, the stupid thing is constantly being pressed, doing weird things and often causing poor battery life.

      Samsung should really step up and provide a settings option to allow it to be disabled for unlocking purposed, if desired. A simple protective case provides sufficient protection for the side unlock/power button from accidentally being pressed.

      I will probably try the tempered glass installation and see if that helps, as some have suggested.

  2. it make sense. Samsung can try to come up a different versions. example the gs5 they can also make onscreen keys version on gs5.

  3. I’m actually ok with the hardware button. I prefer that than have it on the screen

  4. i’m always using the home button specially if i turned on the screen its easy rather than the power button while its on any surface.

    • Agreed, I use it the most for that same reason. It is much more convenient but hopefully they can copy LG’s double-tap to wake up the phone.
      Everyone copies each other and I see nothing wrong w/ it as long as it betters the user experience I could care-less!

      • Patent lawyers see that very differently!

  5. Considering how little the home/capacitive buttons add to the overall size of the Samsung devices, there is little reason to get rid of them as well. If the screen costs more to implement, then why waste it on controls that are equally functional by having them on the device itself, off the screen? Is there a true benefit to having the functions be on the screen, where you HAVE to pull them up manually when you want them, especially if they don’t change according to what you are doing? For all the people who have the preference for on-screen stuff(no buttons on the device itself), what is the real benefit to those controls being on-screen? 1/20th of an inch worth of device size, when most people seem to be happy with 5.5+ inch screens in the first place?

  6. Why waste precious screen real estate on buttons??
    It does not make any sense to use the screen for the home button, a functionality that should remain active at all time (wake the device).
    I think Samsung realized that if it would ditch the home button, customers will ditch Samsung.

    • Knok On feature on Lg G2 and you wake up the device. :D

    • Knok On feature on Lg G2 and you wake up the device. :D

  7. Hardware button makes the screen bigger.
    Software button makes the screen smaller.

    Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 user here, no hardware button.

  8. for me i like both onscreen or not.
    onscreen = faster navigation, faster multi tasking and you can always spam the back key without worrying of damage. and for me its not a waste of screen.
    hardware = overall its ok.

    • How do you damage a capacitive back button by spamming? Have had samsung for years but I’ve never done that.

  9. Samsung will remove it when Apple will remove it. This is fact that Samsung really copies Apple directly or indirectly. Believe it or not … Fingerprint scanner where did that come from … Home button where did that come from and still there … Believe me when i say this … Apple’s fingerprint scanner is much easy to use that one on GS5 where you need to swipe … its a smartphone not a scanner device.

    Not that I don’t like Samsung, but since GS4 they are not making the difference at least to me. One thing they did was improve touchwiz … bravo.

    That is what I think.

    • And Apple does not/has not copied anyone? Everyone copies each other to some extent. Who cares as long as it improves the user experience.

    • Yep you’re absolutely right. When Apple discontinues the home button so will Samsung (and because of bran loyalty I don’t see that EVER happening.)

  10. I dunno about everyone else but I am so used to the hardware buttons. If someone asks me to use their non-Samsung phone I always end up mashing the space below the screen or pressing the ‘task switcher’ instead of ‘back’ by accident.

    I hope they don’t ever remove them.

  11. I definitely need a home key….. As dunners 1 says i do the same …. so we like hardware home button to be present..


  12. Author writing about hardware home key like about something which no one likes, but Samsung. Don’t tell about it as a fact!
    I like hardware home button very much and i hope it won’t disappear long time.

    Author, buy HTC or Sony or whatever phone you like without hardware button. No need to post such crappy article!

    • Um, the article is about why Samsung can’t remove the hardware button, whether people like it or not. I personally am fine with either software or hardware buttons (especially now that Samsung has adopted the recent apps key), but again, that’s not the point.

      • Actually, it’s not impossible. If Samsung would like to, then they could make 2 versions of the same model and then see which will have better demand (It’s not like Apple having 1.5 models of the iPhone). It’s not so difficult, especially for Samsung who made a lot of different versions of SGS4.
        The point is: Samsung doesn’t want to remove physical buttons.

        Physical home (and 2 other touch buttons), removable battery and slot for microSD – these 3 features make Samsung phones special.
        Change one of these features and many Samsung customers will have a lot of choices (among competitors) while buying a new phone.

      • by the way, from electrical point of view, physical (not touch or on-screen) home button doesn’t consume power in sleep mode. With touch button you they have to supply power for touch circuit in order to be able to wake up by home button. Or remove ability to wake up by home button which is disadvantage. Waking up by home button is very useful feature.

  13. I got one question: Is the Galaxy S5′s physical home button water-resistant?

    • the water resistance rating is applied to the whole phone, including the home button…

    • That was a pretty stupid question. Sorry to say that.

      Do you want a phone that is only 50% water resistant? What about a half pregnant woman?

      • como todo telefono tactil puede tener un punto debil al agua su pregunta fue mal redactada pero tu contestacion esta fuera de lugar totalmento lo unico que es estupido e ignorante es tu respuesta con ejemplos absurdos y que no viene a cuento algo de inteligencia x minima que fuere no te vendria mal o pinsa antes de poner la primera gilipollez que se te pase x esa cabeza de melon….hueco… ciaoo

        • y muestra de un de desconocimiento y retraso mental en lo que se refiere hblando… date un vuelta haber si coges algo de inspiracion o no xablote…… jejejejejejejejeeeje xd ¬¬¬¬¬¬

  14. I think this is where creativity struck in. Neither Samsung nor Apple are coming with creative new feature for their phones.Maybe if Steve Jobs was still alive, then this might changed.
    You need at some point to provide new features even if majority of people will resist it.

  15. I would prefer a capacitive home button, I don’t see any advantages in a physical one.

    The reason being consistency – seriously – take a look at the settings menu in pre 4.3 android on samsung phones, 4.3 android and on the s5.

    Owned S1, S2, S4 ,sticking by S4 for now but if Samsung doesn’t shape up I will be making a switch. (Sucky fingerprint scanner, useless heart rate monitor common, do better or don’t do)

  16. The most important thing is the SOFTWARE. My wife got Galaxy Ace 2 and it’s a mess. Laggs and got a lot of FREEZES on jelly bean 4.1.2. Sometimes it is unusable. WELL DONE SAMSUNG a dual core phone with 768 Ram that works like a single core thanks to it’s software. Well, i asked Samsung about this problem and they only put me to do a hard reset of the phone. WELL DONE SAMSUNG! The greatest solution ever. I aspect a SOFTWARE UPDATE that will fix all the bugs, not a hard reset. Samsung disappointed me with the first Galaxy S. Thanks to Cyanogenmod the phone was awesome. For me no more samsung devices. Samsung = Crap Software. And for that Ace 2 i hope that Maclaw will bring kitkat to a stable version so that the phone can be used again.

  17. So don’t care about software or hardware buttons.

  18. I had the SII, S4 and now Note 3. I am tired of pressing a physical home button, would prefer touch outside the screen.

  19. the home is very useful. i think samsung should keep it.on this website there should be polls for samsung to understand what customer wants.

  20. The sad true but for us gadget geeks that makes all always a figth, but we are like 1 million of geeks complaining about everything, the important here is the other 199million people that are used to a home button, i prefer the physical home button, more screen for my apps and phone I just wish they came to a capacitive solution maybe smaller, or if they turn to software they came with a nice solution for not loose screen

  21. I feel that on screen buttons is a terrible idea. They take room off the screen and also, while on it, double tap is also over estimated.

    Keep it simple people, just pushing on home screen or power button to wake up the device should be more than sufficient.

    Honestly I believe there should not be something to be done in the way the devices are implemented and definitely h/w home button should not go.

  22. I think the Original Poster is a majority of one… I love the hardware buttons, leave the screen for me to display what I want… not cut off a virtually constant set of pixels (immerse mode isn’t used that widely yet).

    The article presents it like they are universally reviled when they’re another nice addition like a removable batteries and external storage. Don’t fix what’s not broken and a feature that’s in use every day millions of times by happy users.

    • Sorry if it came across as saying that the home button is reviled. Had no intention of saying that, I personally have no issues with the hardware button, and I’ve updated the article (see the edit at the end) to reflect that.

  23. Forgot to mention, hardware buttons make it a lot easier to get into download and recovery when you have issues.

  24. I actually prefer the physical button, I wouldn’t ditch Samsung if they didn’t offer it but I like it. Now if Samsung gets rid of swappable batteries and microSD then they are in trouble with me as a consumer.

  25. Egyértelműen jó ez így nem foglal el helyet a képernyőből.

  26. I dont mind the hardware button.
    Though on a Tablet it is a bit weird. If you are in portrait mode then the button is on the side, and if you are in landscape its on the bottom. (depending on the tablet)

  27. This text doesn’t make any sense.

    Users are fed up with Galaxy S, Mini, Neo, Note, Mega, Active, Tab 1, Tab 2, Tab 7, Note 8, Note 10.1….

    I can’t get worse than that. Users are totally lost and confused.

    That being said, removing the home button is nothing compared to this mess.

    LG removed the home button, put the volume rocker on the back and that’s it. Life goes on and LG users don’t even miss the home button.

    People can adapt pretty quickly.

    I personally hate the home button and the capacitive buttons and I love the soft buttons.

  28. As for tablet I am happy to see button on new ones , I didnt like p1000 , p6800 and p5100 cause of there is no physical button , now I own note 2014 and am happy with it.

    In screen button will take space specially on tablets and looks ugly to view things on full screen.

  29. samsung will make a new line of galaxy devices with software keys. for the S series its not gonna happen. i guess Galaxy T hahahahaha

  30. I’r rather use the home hardware button, it’s multifunctional and makes your SG stand out amid a number of idiotic smartphones.

  31. Samsung started the whole single round Home Button w/ a capacitive button either side of it on SGH-Z610 Multimedia Smartphone introduced in Korea in January 2006. A whole year before Apple iPhone. It was a Candy bar slider style and the 3.5″ touchscreen only had a touch dial pad for calling. But the UI (version of Touchwiz) included gestures for multimedia, playlists, videos and video chat. SGH-Z610 also included dual front n back cameras, GPS (iPhone didn’t have), 3G (in some locations), media remote control, bluetooth, wifi and rounded corners. It also had the first stainless band around the bezel and across the back used w/ their auto switching internal/external camera.

    Which is why they offered Apple to license it, during iPhone 4 AntennaGate Fiasco! ….it was done in jest though. After Apple began their false attacks on competitors, including dissing on Samsung as that Korean anticompetitive corporate gorilla. Which turned out to be the opposite case with Apple being the anti-competitive corporate gorilla!

  32. botones fisicos al poder todo dispositivo movil deberia de contar con ello al tenerlo en la pantallas a demas de reducir el tamaño y la accessibilidad y la incomodidad de ,uchas visiones en estropea cualquier smarrphon lo detesto da asco…. si a los botones fisicicos no sean ingenuos ….ni sufran restraso eventual en ciertas cpsa un saludo …..

  33. samsung makes horible devices. i bought a tab 3 from a friend at school for $70. needless to say, were not friends anymore. i hope google pushes for non physical buttons. ill take my LG nexus 5 over anything samsung makes any day of the week!

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