Galaxy S4 in hand

AH Primetime: Button Controls Mounted on the Back of Our Devices, Brilliant or Just Annoying?

July 3, 2013 - Written By Brendan Lynch

Most people would say that mobile technology is moving faster than ever before. Hardware and software updates are being pushed out so quickly, that most purchases become obsolete in only a couple months. However, it seems that not all aspects of mobile devices are being updated so frequently. The biggest of these is the overall form factor of devices. The basic form factor of devices have pretty much been stagnant the past couple of years, almost as if the industry decided on something they liked and are unwilling to deviate from it.


You typically have a big screen with a power button and volume button on the sides along with a port or two. The only real aspect that sets some phones apart is what lies below the screen. These buttons are actually some of the most varying aspects of the devices as they can either be physical buttons, capacitive buttons, or on-screen buttons and in some cases, a combination of any of the three.

However, there are a few manufacturers that are willing to stir things up. Perhaps the biggest underutilized aspect of our devices is the the back of them. For example, back in February we heard about a device dubbed the YotaPhone was set to hit the market in Q2 of this year. It was supposedly sporting a normal 720p display, with an E-Ink display on the back of the device. This is obviously meant to appeal to those who love reading but don’t like reading on bright and colorful screens as they tend to be more strenuous on our vision. While we haven’t heard anything else, it is certainly interesting that some manufacturers are thinking so uniquely.


In addition, there is device slated for release known as the Jolla Phone. This device utilizes the back in a completely different way. From what we’ve seen so far, it appears that the device will have multiple different backs coming in multiple different colors. Swapping out the back for another color will actually change the interface to match. In addition, it appears that you can link different application to different backs, opening you up to an entirely new form of customization and creativity. Perhaps you will have a back for home and a back for work, giving you access to specific features and apps that you only want at these locations. While it is unclear if there is really a strong demand for this type of product, it certainly makes you wonder what else can be done.

Jolla phone

While these two devices seem obscure and impractical, there is one major company that could in fact change your mind on what you can do with the back of your device. LG is reportedly moving the volume rocker to the back of the device on their upcoming G2. As it stands, the rocker appears to be placed directly below the camera, which actually lines up with where your finger naturally falls while holding the device. If this feature proves to be popular, it could open the door for more manufacturers willing to take advantage of the vast amount of space on the back of our devices.


As a matter of fact, we do actually have a device that has been out for quite some time that utilizes the back. Sony’s popular PS Vita has a rear, multi-touch panel that can be used to navigate the operating system in addition to controlling certain aspects of gameplay. In reality, this type of setup actually works quite nicely. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the fact that you no longer have to interrupt your view if you want to navigate a menu or perform an action while gaming. We have grown accustomed to the natural fluidity that touchscreens have brought us, but there is still a fundamental problem in that our hands seem get in the way of what we really want to see: our content.

PS Vita Rear Touch

If you remember correctly, early rumors of the Moto X claimed that the device would indeed have a touch enabled back. While we have no idea if this is true or not, a multi-touch sensor on the back of the device could actually make gestures such as page scrolling much more effortless. With the increase in high quality displays, being able to scroll without interrupting your view could actually be quite practical. Then there is the obvious advantages when it comes to gaming as we have seen it become very well-received in Sony’s PS Vita.

So what do you think? Do you think we should be using the back of our devices more? Does the idea of have buttons or touchpads on the back of your smartphone or tablet sound brilliant or just plain annoying?