Idea for a more accident-friendly WP7 search button

Just when you think you’re careful enough, it strikes without mercy. Nevermind the hilarious YouTube you were watching or photo you’re about to take, it’s Bing time. I am of course referring to the inconspicuous but deadly capacitive search button on most of the popular Windows Phone 7 devices.

In spite of the firmware updates trickling out to some Samsung devices which disables the capacitive hardware buttons whilst the touchscreen is touched, the problem is not completely resolved and it’s simply too easy to accidentally activate the “back” and “search” buttons, even if you’re careful.

Since I enjoy myself a design challenge, I came up with this mockup taking some inspiration from the tap-and-hold gesture found on the desktop version of Windows.

In essence, it would provide a short buffer that would allow users to cancel their action without repercussions. Of course those who actually want to complete the action can do so as well without any too much hassle either.

Unfortunately, due to the new press-and-hold multitasking behavior of the “back” button in Mango limits the idea to just the search button. Nevertheless that seems to be the button I accidentally press the most anyway. Feedback welcome.

54 insightful thoughts

  1. Good idea, anyhow I wouldn’t like to have this on my Optimus 7, because you don’t click hardware buttons accidently.

  2. I support this idea. It is also inline designwise and usagewise with how kinect on xbox operates when a user is selecting an option. when you hover your hand around a button on the xbox, the circle completes then accepts the users choice, allowing the user to move away from a selection easily.

  3. Agreed, I’m always accidently hitting the Search button on my HTC Mozart, normally while playing a game in horizontal orientation, such as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja, and for now without those games having instant resume, I normally have to start that level again =/

  4. I think the only real solution with this problem is for manufacturers to ditch capacitive buttons. WHO LIKES CAPACITIVE BUTTONS ANYWAY!!!!

    1. +1

      Have Mozart and really hate the capacitive button. Whenever a friend plays with my phone, they always accidentally press those buttons.

    2. I’m on O2 in the UK and when WP7 launched over here, the only phone available on contract was the HTC HD7 which has capacitive buttons so for me it wasn’t about what I liked or disliked, there was no other choice unless I moved carrier. I don’t have a problem from a design or style perspective, it’s certainly easier to keep clean and dust free. Capacitive buttons don’t fade or get worn over time. I think this is a good idea as I am constantly hitting the either the Back or Search button, particularly when in portrait mode, playing a game or something.

    3. BRING BACK HARDWARE BUTTONS. It’s that simple. One of the US phones has a hardware start button, which is great – but it does not turn the device on – IT SHOULD. Using the iPhone it is so effortless to turn it on, just hit the button on the front. Not on the side, not on the very top, not somewhere you have to reach or use two damn hands to turn it on.

      Simple things here.

  5. I agree with Michael. Although design played an important part of the Windows Phone 7 UX, this is taking it too far. The LG Optimus 7 shows how it can be done.

  6. i’d like to see the search button hook into the search function inside the current app, if it had one, rather than go directly to bing. Thats something i miss in outlook in mango. Perhaps a loooong press to get bing would be better.

    otherwise your suggestion is a good one.

    1. Agreed, would be great if a “normal” search press hooked into app search if implemented, and a long-press search hooked into Bing.

  7. Looks good on paper, but a 0.5 second wait is sufficient for mose users.

    The multi-task option on the back button can be set to a double tap-and-hold action, where a user quickly taps and releases the button, then holds it down again until the circle is filled.

  8. I would rather have it go to bing on long press and while playing a game disable the search button completely and on shot press it does context sensitive search ..

  9. You have my vote on this. It happends way to many times that I press back, or bing when playing games or showing off things it can do. You really have to be carefull not to hit them.

    Only if I could change the search button to open google, the button currently is pointless to me.

  10. NO! Sorry this just fundamentally makes no sense. You live in Australia as I understand it, so get the LG Optimus 7, it has h/w buttons. I really so no problem with the current set up, remember, this happens in almost every OS where there is a capacitive area underneath the screen.

  11. Nice idea! Also, the side swipe (for the panorama layout) is kinda sensitive. I always find myself accidentally swiping panes while reading inside an app. Maybe they could force delay or require a longer distance before panning to the left or right pane.

  12. Interesting concept. How did you settle on the 1.5 seconds, or was it arbitrary? I’d have thought that a time under 1 second would prevent most accidents, and 1.5 seconds feels slightly too long.

    1. I just went off by heart. I estimated how long I would be willing to press it before I got frustrated.

      1. Fair enough. I’d expect this kind of thing would get HCI research to come up with ‘the number’ if it went to implementation. I like the solution though!

  13. In real time game, the overlay would still disturb and probably caused (virtual) casualties though.

    Vote for giving apps power to disable that button.

  14. Zheng, I am a user of HD7 and i too have this tendency to miss hit search often!! I certainly appreciate your idea… But will this be a metro design? They should have a long press for Bing Search else should search within the application ( If Application does not have a search handler –> It should gracefully ignore ) and if hit from START should search anything ( universal ) .. hmm getting complicated…

  15. I don’t like the idea. I think it is stupid. The idea of the search button is to search easily not this kind of thing.

    1. I think search button dedicating to Bing is my preference as well, But there is a real problem with accidental hits of this button when you’re on an app.

      I think a better idea is a setting to disable the search button when you’re in a specific app or game, in that way search is easy access when you want to, and do not bother you when you do not want it to.

  16. I think the back button, at least with the capacitive buttons, practically REQUIRES a forward button yet it doesn’t have one. While search is annoying, I press a quick back way too much too and having to contextually remember where I was is probably more annoying to me. I can press back from search and generally get back to where I was via tombstone. I CAN’T go forward as easy. I guess this is one reason why the metro guidelines call for simple screens because it requires us to remember when we screw up. I don’t like being penalized like that.

    I hope WP8 has that extra button. Not necessary I know, and quite honestly doesn’t need its own button, I just need a way to go back and forth a little easier. Browsers have forward buttons though they may have more context to need it.

  17. The simplest solution would be to disable the search button in full-screen apps like games.

  18. I think the search button should be two-tiered. But it should have user-configurable options.

    Option 1: hitting the search button wherever you are will launch Bing, hold the button for 2 seconds while in a game to launch it.
    Option 2: Hitting the search button in any native Windows Phone app launches bing. Apps can use the button to search within the app. Holding for 2 seconds takes the user to bing.
    Option 3: Disable the search button.

    Options 2 & 3 are at the mercy of the developers.

  19. good idea, but what bugs me most is after i type a text message, i mistakenly hit the home button and the text is gone. it should be saved as a draft..

  20. To be honest, I’ve gotten pretty good at not accidentally hitting the buttons on my Focus, which underscores the problem that there’s a definite learning curve with capacitive buttons.

    The problem with this method is that I have to wait before I’m taken to Bing. The entire point of the search button is I have instant, one-touch access to Bing from whereever I am in the phone. This concept is moving away from that.

    I think that a solution will likely require smarter or simply different hardware, possible working in conjunction with software. I thought of taking the capacitive area of each button and making it into a sort of bullseye of three or more circles. In order to register a button press, the capacitive area would have to see each of the three circles, from innermost to outermost, activated. This would more closely simulate the momentary pushbutton nature of physical buttons. If a touch were registered from one of the outside rings of the button area, it wouldn’t register as a button press. The way it works today, hitting the corner of the any of the buttons is the same as hitting it in the center. This wouldn’t alleviate the problem, but it could certainly reduce the number of stray activations. Thing is, I don’t know that current capacitive buttons can operate on that accurate of a level, nor do I know if this could simply be written into the drivers for devices or if it would require a bit more circuitry to interpret input like this.

    Edit: It also simply breaks the way buttons work, as Mr Zheng admits. Pressing a button takes you to the related function. Going forward long pressing it operates a secondary function.

  21. I support this idea, because the WP7 did mess up the Search button quite badly. Ideally, the Search button should search the app itself – but it seems their framework end up not supporting such feature well enough after the hardware chassis was finalized. In Mango, the stop-gap measure was ugly. Every app gains a soft Search button, leaving the hardware Search button do only one (annoying) thing – launch Bing.

    Microsoft should do two things to mitigate this UI problem:

    1. In Tango, remove all soft Search buttons, and introduce an API so that all third party devs can code for the hardware Search button. Or even better, the Silverlight frame should just automagically plow through the datasets of the currently running app and list the results, if the developer did not code anything for Search.

    2. Change Bing from single tap to press-and-hold gesture.

    As a sidenote, and the waiting circle should be carried to the press-and-hold events for the Back and Start buttons as well.

    Thanks, Long.

    1. You don’t want quick access to Bing search (you called it annoying).Microsoft disagrees with you.

      1. Not if it’s easily accidentally triggered. Imagine the camera button is capacitive and you trigger it all the time?

        In fact, the Bing button should act like the Camera button. I wouldn’t mind if tap-and-holding it while the phone is off can bring me to Bing search right away so I can use Bing Vision or Bing Music matching.

        That’s way, way faster than your (and your assumed Microsoft) way of triggering Bing, which is Power button -> Slide home screen up -> accidentally press the search button.

  22. Interesting idea, but similar to holding the back button activates the multi-tasking, holding the search button currently opens voice search (I believe, I don’t actually have a phone yet) but that may be US/UK only…

  23. Great idea Long. This is the very reason I returned my Samsung Focus and why I’m back with my iPhone. I won’t return until they solve this. All they have to do is make it a user toggle that turns it on or off so you can choose to have the buttons activate by a press-hold or a double-tap.

  24. I don’t want to hold to search. What’s supposed to happen when you just tap it?

    If you accidentally launch search, hit Back. I think that’s more convenient than having to hold Search everytime.

    This would kill one big advantage Bing Audio has over Shazam… how quickly I can tag a song

  25. Yes!!!! Nothing worse when playing Fruit Ninja (a MS game) and you hit the search button. This would be great!

  26. Although it wouldn’t help existing devices, the only real answer is to use physical buttons with capacitive sensors on top of each button. The button would only register a “press” if the capacitive sensor was triggered and the button was physically depressed simultaneously. This would reject pocket presses (the capactive sensor wouldn’t be triggered by fabric), and accidental presses (it’s harder to accidentally press a physical button).

  27. I think that a full screen intermediate message would really start to annoy me. Every time my finger brushed the search button (happens far too often), there would be a giant ugly flicker, reminiscent of the glitchy heydays of Windows.

    It might be better to have a much more discreet UI that slides in. Much like the volume button UI.

  28. Add my voice to the chorus of others. The Mango search design is terrible. Microsoft kindly gave us this fantastic hardware Search button, yet, throughout the user interface, software search buttons litter the place, with no consistent placement or anything, and the hardware button takes you to Image Of The Day so you can see two squirrels kissing.

    I essentially own a phone with a Back button (really useful), Start button (really useful), and an Image Of The Day button. And I don’t want to see Image Of The Day when playing a game.

    Get rid of the stupid software search buttons. Tap on the hardware button to search the current app. Hold the hardware button to go to Bing. This makes it consistent with the Back button (tap works within the current app / hold goes beyond the current app). You can still get to Bing quickly. And the Search button (not the “Bing button”) is actually useful for searching in most of the cases you want to search.

    It seems like the solution is obvious to me. Sadly I fear Microsoft’s Manager of Bing has already had words with the WP7 crew to promote their product above and beyond the wants and needs of WP7 users. Politics at play?

  29. From my point of view, the Search key is almost useless. MS should let the app developers to access the Search Key just like the Back Key. And the user still have a shut-cut to bing by holding the Search for a while.

  30. Wouldn’t it make more sense to double tap the search button?

    Long pressing on buttons for anything can be pretty infuriating… just ask any Android user when they long press the Home button to bring up the recently used apps dialog.

  31. I absolutely hate the BING button, i dont use it and it always get in the way. If I knew that I couldn’t modify the button or disable it before i bought it then I would have bought a samsung on android instead. As a consumer I should be able to modify MY phone to suit ME … not be locked into some Microsoft Search function just because they have a commercial interest in it. Serves me right to trust microsoft. Wont make the same mistake again. Anyone want to buy a used HD7

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