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.

Opinion 53
Related newsLatest news

Leave a Reply

1 year 6 months ago

What??? What kind of crap is written in this article? What criticism? You mean every manufacturer except Samsung has had to degrade their devices by compromising with the use of soft keys. You mean Samsung is the only sensible manufacturer because they still don’t waste valuable screen space unlike all the other manufacturers that need to see sense and do the same.

Good for Samsung. They know exactly what they are doing. Because this and their excelent cameras are the two main reasons why they are close to a monopoly on Android market. Other manufacturers should step up their game and catch up.

I’m writting these as a hater of TouchWiz and not ever an owner of a Samsung flagship.

2 years 10 months ago

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!

3 years 1 day ago

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 …..

3 years 24 days ago

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!

3 years 1 month ago

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

3 years 1 month ago

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

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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)

3 years 1 month ago

Egyértelműen jó ez így nem foglal el helyet a képernyőből.

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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

3 years 1 month ago

So don’t care about software or hardware buttons.

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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)

3 years 1 month ago

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.

3 years 1 month ago

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

3 years 1 month ago

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?

3 years 1 day ago

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

3 years 1 day ago

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 ¬¬¬¬¬¬

3 years 1 month ago

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

3 years 1 month ago

Good!! :)

3 years 1 month ago

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!

3 years 1 month ago

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


3 years 1 month ago

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.