Three Hardware Standards Android Handset Manufacturers Need to Implement

Since the debut of the T-Mobile G1 in October 2008, Android has grown exponentially.  The platform has progressed from 1.0 to 2.1, with high-end Android handsets being all the rage in recent months.

With the rapid growth of the platform we have seen many different pieces of hardware that  show off the range that Android operating system provides.  From the T-Mobile Huawei Pulse to the Sprint HTC EVO 4G, handsets have had screen sizes ranging from 2.8″ to 4.3″, different processors, and varying internal storage capacity.  Honestly, this is one of the great things about Android! Despite these differences, there have been some similarities, such as the  volume rocker, home button, back button, and search button (some of you may be asking why I did not include dialer button, but the Motorola Cliq XT and several other HTC handsets do not feature this.)

Before we get carried away with ourselves, the point of this post is not to discuss the similarities and differences in Android handsets, but to detail hardware standards, especially when it comes to buttons and switches.  Take a look to see what I think about this below.

1. Mute/Silent Switch

One of the major gripes I have about the hardware on Android handsets is that there is not a quick way to silence the phone.  Sure, if someone calls me while I am in a meeting I can just hit the volume rocker or I can even get an app that silences the phone if it is face down.  This works.  With all this, I still wish there was a hardware switch to flip to make the phone silent. The only Android phone I know that has this to date is the Motorola Cliq.  Whenever my wife silences here phone it is very easy, switch it and boom.  All I am saying is it would be much easier if all Android handsets had this.  It is much more convenient and faster than unlocking the phone and turning the volume all the way down or pressing a widget.  I think this is needed.

2. GPS /Maps Switch

The lack of a GPS/Maps switch on any Android handsets is something that needs to be changed.  In fact, I am unsure if any major handset(even the iPhone) has a button that turns on the GPS and opens up the Google Maps application.  Sure, you can unlock the phone and turn on Google Maps then place it in the car mount and go, that works great.  However, when driving or needing to get somewhere quickly, there should be a better, faster option.  If possible, it would be great to just flip a switch or push a button on a handset while it is in the car mount and Google Maps would open right up, GPS turn on, and you can speak your directions easily without fiddling with the screen.  Handset makers have camera buttons to open the camera application all the time, I can’t see it being to difficult to add a switch or button a GPS/Maps application.

3. Camera Button

Speaking of the camera button.  It really is something nice to have isn’t it?  A colleague of mine who owns the Motorola Droid, simply loves the hardware button.  Honestly, I never really thought much about it, but when I used his Droid to take some photos, using the camera button was absolutely fantastic! One push and boom the camera is on.  Just like that.  I can’t tell you how many times my wife told me to take a picture and by the time I unlocked my phone and found the camera app, the moment was over.  I think Android handset manufactures should think long and hard about adding a standard camera button, it makes it much easier.

So that’s it from me.  Now the question is what standards, if any, would you like to see?  Let us know in the comments!

  • no way. this would add way too many buttons to a phone. Having two separate volume related buttons would be confusing for a lot of people, and yet another button to hit accidently. What android phones don't have a camera button?

    • The Hero and Eris.

    • Ethan

      And the myTouch 3G.

    • And the Nexus One.

    • Dan

      And the EVO

    • madkayaker

      And the Droid Incredible.

  • Marc

    Standardize the power/data connectors!

  • Honestly, the only one of these issues that ever bothered me was the mute/silence button, that was when I had a G1. Now that I have a N1 I can silence with one quick swipe.

  • Tim

    I guess I don't understand the point of this article (at least based on the topic presented by the title). I'm all for hard buttons on my phone, but that's not what's written about here. These are just 2 features you'd like to see added to handsets and 1 feature that some do have but yours does not. This article didn't provide any information about why there should be a hardware standard for buttons, just the buttons you want. Maybe a manufacturer will read this and add some of these, and then you can buy it, THAT is what's great about Android. That manufacturers can differentiate their products with features that cater to different types of people while providing a solid OS as the foundation. Who knows, maybe there are people who'd like to just have a single button on their phone… Nah, that'd never work… 🙂

  • Every phone needs a hardware way to silence it in my opinion. A way to know, while it's in your pocket, that it's silent.

    The camera button's not a big deal to me, but it's nice on the N1 to be able to use the trackball as a physical way of feeling the button while not looking at the screen.

    I don't really see any need for a separate GPS button. You're getting into button overkill in my opinion.

    That said, I wouldn't mind hard buttons on my N1 instead of the off-centered-touch-location soft home and other keys.

  • I disagree with the Map button. That's what dock events are for. I have Maps on my main Home screen and it couldn't be simpler to fire it up manually.

    I sort of agree with the Camera button, but only on phones with a decent sensor. I'd say 5MP and up (and of decent quality) would be nice to have one, but anything less is pretty pointless.

    I'm using the OpenEclair ROM at the moment, and Google's latest version of the lock screen has a Sound toggle that silences the phone. So I don't think a button is necessary for this either. One press and one swipe is all I need to silence my phone.

    What I would like to see is ambient-light sensors become a mandatory feature. Anyone who's ever taken their phone outside in the sun will know just how annoying it is to have to manually bump the brightness up (and then bump it back down when you go inside). Similarly, reading the time on your phone in the dark with the same "day-time brightness" setting is far too bright.

    Also, I think physical trackballs are super lame. I can't believe Google resurrected what should be a dead input method. Give us 5-way D-pads, or optical trackpads please.

    • I think a dedicated map button is ridiculous. It's an app like any other so why dedicate a button to it and not another app? The best solution is one or two buttons on the side that are user programmable like, gasp, on the BlackBerry. This way, everyone gets their way.

      I tried a trackpad for the first time today and I hope it's the last time I try it. They're terrible. I never liked the trackball but the one on the Nexus One may be the best ever made. But if I had my choice I'll take a really good d-pad, perhaps like the one on the HTC Dash.

  • Stephen Tenerowicz

    Awesome guys, thanks for the great suggestions

  • The Xperia has the camera button, with half-press for focus and everything. I like it. But I don't understand why every phone should be forced to have one. Same thing with the mute button – if that's important to you, buy a phone that has one, but don't force the rest of us to get something we don't need. If you really want to push for something, it would be one or two generic activation buttons you can remap to whatever you want.

    And seriously, all your suggestions imply that the button will override the lock. Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. Do you really want your phone to accidentally go mute while in your pocket? Or turn on map and GPS without you knowing it, and find your battery drained and your phone dead when you want to make a call a couple of hours later?

    When you're driving and can't unlock the phone, you have no business playing with the phone at all, one-button press or not.. Stop, then set up the map. If you can't remember to set up the map before you drive into traffic then that's just your own problem.

  • StephanC

    Silencing the Droid is easy! Just hit the power button on the top and slide the "Silence Bar" to the left! What more do you want? The maps button is a bad idea. For me, all I have to do is place my Droid in the car dock, press VOICE SEARCH, and say "Navigate to…" What phone are you using that doesn't have these features? Why do you want more buttons?

    • Stephen Tenerowicz

      None of the HTC Sense phones(even 2.1 sense) have that swipe to silence button, nor do any hones on 1.5 or 1.6

      • With the Xperia (Android 1.6) you press the power button, then toggle the sound button in the pop-up menu. Sure. it's a button, not a swipe, but the disappointment would be survivable.

  • Stephen Tenerowicz

    sorry phones on 1.5 or 1.6

  • Tar Tar

    Nice suggestions, BUT

    1. 1Ghz processors
    2. minimum 8G internal storage
    3. 8mpx camera with flash

  • Tar Tar

    Nice suggestions, BUT

    1. 1Ghz processors
    2. minimum 8G internal storage
    3. 8mpx camera with flash

    • chuck

      Done, done, and done. Its called HTC Droid Incredible..

  • Josh

    Yeah, I disagree with all of these. Having a quick software option for silent mode like the Nexus One and adding a widget to control the gps is much better in my opinion. Adding all those hardware buttons would just clutter the phone and I haven't found a need for that. I don't even miss the camera button from my G1. I'd rather have smooth and clean than clunky and cluttered any day.

  • I've always made fun of phones with mute buttons. It's just clutter. The Nexus One has a quick swipe option which works well. I personally like the volume rocker option, and HTC Sense has the cool 'turn your phone upside down' feature to silence the phone. I think any of the 3 are better than a physical mute switch.

    The maps button is an interesting idea, but not one I'd dedicate a button to. Car Home already does pretty much what you ask for, and does so when you insert your phone into the car dock. I've actually never understood why people turn off gps… very few applications use it anyway, and observing my status bar, it's never on, unless I'm actively looking at maps or checking in using foursquare.

    Camera buttons are nice, I agree.

    I personally like the idea of each phone including a button that can be remapped to anything (is this the 'g' button on the upcoming mytouch slide?). People have different needs, and it shouldn't be up to the hardware manufacturer to guess what I want.

  • Kevin

    Instead of a GPS button, I think we should just be able to give permissions to certain apps to automatically turn on GPS. That would be far more convenient than a toggle.

  • Andy

    The Title of this post doesnt reflect the content on it…its more about hardware buttons rather than truly hardware standards which would allow more apps to work in a seamless way and provide an enhanced ecosystem for the platform.

    Coming to the actual content of this email..buttons. Too many buttons for sure make a device confusing to use and are prone to accidental pressing.

    Android is highly customisable…so if u want the camera up in a flash..keep a shortcut on the home screen…same for everything else. The N1 also comes with automatic docking modes and the Car home comes up automatically once u dock it in a car dock. The same can be achieved through a shortcut on the home screen.

    No more hardware buttons please…the standard ones on Android just do fine and keep the phones rather simple…

    Cheers !!

  • TareX

    I would definitely second that camera button suggestion. The camera button should also be used to bring up the camera app, similar to how the connect button brings up the phone app.

    But seriously, we need front cams on Androids, and I've been saying that for 2 years now. Now that iPhone is getting it, I have no doubt that the successor to the Nexus One will be getting it as well.

    • Ratnok

      The iPhone is late to the game. Many other phones have had that feature for years, and there are already 2 Android phones that have it. The Samsung Galaxy S and the EVO 4G. Apple is just playing catch up to Android in this regard- and that's only if the Apple rumors are true.

  • I agree, adding more buttons just clutter the phone. Adding customizable buttons would be best bet, as users can deciedewhich task they need to do most…

    Hardik Jakharia

  • speedogomer

    I couldn't live without a dedicated camera button, and a customizable side mounted button (like my old bb 8320) would be nice.

    If were talking hardware wish list, I'd like to see minimum processor requirements so that game developers can freely develop advanced games that play on all android handsents and not just the latest and greatest ones. I'd also like to see increased internal storage (the ability to run Apps from an SD card from the factory would also work). I don't care about requiring d-pads or trackballs or touchpads, and a dedicated GPS buttton is overkill, also the mute button issue is solved well with the silence swipe on the lock screen.

  • I don't think any particular button should be standard on Android phones but I agree that I miss the camera button.

    Regarding standardizing buttons I think we need to remember Android is just a software platform, not hardware. Manufactures need to stop being semi-lazy in terms of hardware creativity and start standing out… finding a niche that works for the users such as these suggestions.

  • I don't think any particular button should be standard on Android phones but I agree that I miss the camera button.

    Regarding standardizing buttons I think we need to remember Android is just a software platform, not hardware. Manufactures need to stop being semi-lazy in terms of hardware creativity and start standing out… finding a niche that works for the users such as these suggestions.

  • 2.1 already has a quick silence option on the lock screen (at least on the Droid). I wish it would change to vibrate instead of completely silence, though.

  • Marvin

    What a load of crap this is… the audio toggles should be removed instead of expanded with yet another stupid button / switch!

  • Ramon Paxus

    Press and hold the power button, the silence option is right there. No need to unlock or anything.

  • If at all they ask for the review from my side i would say i would be needing something that doesn't leaves my work incomplete. Moreover it has to be user-friendly that for every single and a small query i dont have to ask for the support every now and then.

  • luke

    like the call/end buttons, the search button isn't standard either; the samsung galaxy doesn't have one.

  • Ben

    Camera button is a nice-to-have, but any more buttons than we already have is adding clutter to the front of the phone. I wouldn't go as far as apple, but I would say less buttons is a better looking design a lot of the time (Samsung, please take note). On the subject of buttons, it really hacks me off when carriers add their own 'useful' buttons (genius button, anyone) that serve no useful purpose and cannot be remapped to a function you do actually use. I remember my N95 had 2 huge keys on the front, one for Menu, and the other was a special useless roatating menu that took 10 seconds to load. The only time I pressed that key was by accident, and then I had to wait to exit the useless rotating menu. /rant

  • johnkzin

    Wait… you want to have an android phone with a camera button, and your reference for a phone that does have one … is an android phone? There you go. There's already an android phone with a camera button (two: the G1 has one, as well).

    I'm more interested in:
    1) 1GHz CPU
    2) 1GB RAM
    3) 8+GB internal storage (the N900 has 32GB!)
    4) 4.1" screen
    5) 852×480 resolution
    6) 5 row qwerty (IMO: there hasn't been an android GSM phone, since the G1, that has been worth a damn, for this exact reason)

    Give me all of those things, and then we can talk about Camera buttons, GSM/Map buttons, and a mute/silent switch.

  • ME Myseld & I

    you know what would be nice? If all these smartphones had a freaking button to
    MAKE PHONE CALLS!!!!!!!!
    I shouldn't have to put an icon on my home screen inorder to actually beable to use my phone as a phone.

    • Ratnok

      Amen to that.

  • bjtheone

    This suggestion is simply short-sighted… even if you added the hardware buttons for the majorities favour functions you would be deep into button hell.

    A programmable button or two strategically located might be nice but there are way to many usage scenarios to cover them with dedicated buttons. With programmable buttons you could decide which were the most important functions you wanted instant access too.

    However, I honestly don’t see the need for more buttons, since unlock is a quick double press on menu and I know where all the most used app icons are on my main home screen. If you cannot hit them without really looking, you probably don’t use them that often. You can customise the phone to do pretty well everything you asked for (one icon mute, one icon quick dial a favourite contact, one icon nav launch, heck you can even use the entire fricking screen as a camera button).

    I use my phone far more for “other” things than as a actual phone. I have no issue with the phone function being an app… it already had two dedicated buttons…. does it really need three?

  • Android Guru

    The author of this artical must be using an outdated phone because on 2.0 & highere all you have to do is slide the volume button across the screen from the lock screen to silence the ringer

  • Sytar

    Adding set buttons like a Mute, Maps, or Camera to a PHONE doesn't seem like it really fits. I know that these devices are becoming more then just phones, but that is the basic idea that they are.

    The current standard of having a Home, Back and Menu button seems more then realistic. It would seem that if you wanted to add some new buttons to a phone a good thing would be to add 2-3 Programmable buttons that the user can completely customize. This give you the ability to have you Mute, Map, and Camera button at any times. Personally I would like to have a Email, Browser, and Low Power mode (something that turns off all unnecessary resources) buttons.

  • Fitch

    _All_ Android phones have a quick-mute option. You press-and-hold the volume down rocker.

    When you press volume-up again, it will jump back to the volume you were at before you muted.

  • AndroidFan

    The only really important thing I can think of is the inclusion of some kind of rollerball or trackpad. Some people think its only a convenience, but it has actual repercussions when it comes to the browser. With only a touch screen, then hover events are just not possible. Just look at those iDevices out there.

  • Strangely, if sadly, the Motorola CLIQ has 2 of these features. In fact, the hardware silencing switch was a key selling point for me (when I got it a week after retail launch.)

    What I found in real world use though is that the dedicated camera button IS handy for launching the camera app but highly impractical as the actual shutter release, since more often than not it results in motion blur, losing your framing, and usually both.

    A key could be, uh, mapped to launch Google Maps. Again, here the CLIQ stands as notable since the home button had an optional Home key double-click action (though, if I recall, it was constrained to a couple predefined events.) And a proprietary button certainly isn’t unprecedented, as demonstrated by the myTouch 3G Slide’s Genius button (which sort of serves as a Maps launcher of sorts, by way of the “Find” voice function.)

    The main problem is, you don’t actually want to OWN a CLIQ.

    Trust me.

  • Steve

    What really needs to happen is a mute button to mute ME while in a phone call. It takes way too long to pull the phone away from my ear (while missing conversation) and wait for the damn screen to show up to touch the mute control in order to speak on a conference call. Sometimes the screen is sluggish to pop back up and by the time I’ve unmuted, I’ve missed my chance to talk, or worse, someone could be waiting for me to speak, and I can’t hear what went on this whole time.
    How about a button on the top of the phone to mute/unmute while the phone is still against your ear like the blackberries have? Then it would be much more functional as a phone.

    Yeah, and the GPS button thing is a little overkill, agreed. You shouldn’t be doing that while you’re driving anyway.

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