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Microsoft is preparing a major update to Windows Phone, dubbed Windows Phone 8.1 or Windows Phone 'Blue', which is due to reach devices in 2014. According to well-known Microsoft expert Paul Thurrott, Windows Phone 8.1 might do something radical: kill the hardware back button.
According to Thurrott's source, Windows Phone users aren't fully familiar with the exact function of the back button, and prefer choosing new or previous apps through the Start button and home screen, rather than hitting the back button a number of times. To simplify things, Microsoft will apparently remove the back button from the Windows Phone 8.1 hardware specifications. This will create an iOS-like experience, where if there's a need to go back to the previous screen in an app, a back button will appear on screen.
The choice to remove the back button, if true, is an interesting one, because it provides access to the multitasking interface. While multitasking is said to receive a number of improvements in Windows Phone 8.1, if the back button is removed, Microsoft will need to find a new way to provide access to the app switcher.
Thurrott also indicates that Windows Phone 8.1 may bring support for 7- and 10-inch displays, sizes which are currently supported by Microsoft's ARM-based OS, Windows RT. This will produce an interesting crossover between Windows RT and Windows Phone, and it remains to be seen which one will be favored by OEMs if the rumor is true.
Other features to come in Windows Phone 8.1 may include universal binaries, which would give developers the ability to create a single app that runs on both Windows Phone and Windows RT, and the long-awaited notification center.
While Microsoft busily works on Windows Phone 8.1, the company is also set to shortly release Windows Phone 8 GDR3, which will bring a few minor changes and improvements to the platform. Most notably, GDR3 is said to bring support for 5- and 6-inch displays, as well as 1080p display resolutions, which will pave the way for devices such as Nokia's 6-inch Lumia 1520 smartphone.