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Your next phone may not have volume or power buttons if this company gets its way

HTC U12
HTC U12 (Image credit: Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Sentons has announced the SDS ButtonBar.
  • The ButtonBar is a standardized virtualized button replacement solution for power and volume buttons in smartphones.
  • Sentons is partnering with Foxconn to enable production at scale.

Sentons wants to make it easier for smartphone OEMs to get rid of physical buttons and replace them with standardized virtual buttons. By virtual buttons, we don't mean the software buttons that used to grace the bottoms of your Android displays, instead, we're talking about what Sentons called software-defined spaces (i.e SDS) that replace traditional buttons like the power and volume buttons. Think about the HTC U12's virtual buttons but better.

The SDS ButtonBar is that replacement. Sentons says that its new ButtonBar will provide a standardized solution that incorporates the best of physical buttons with the flexibility of virtual buttons. The ButtonBar is made up of "over 20 submicron-sized ultrasonically modulated discrete sensors distributed within a short 1.9-inch bar." It's made to be placed anywhere and work with any time of display, even including the foldable and waterfall displays that OEMs are experimenting with today.

Sentons CEO Jess Lee said:

As phone designs evolve with thinner industrial designs, advanced 5G antennae, and reducing aperture count, manufacturers are struggling with where to place chunky old-fashioned buttons. ButtonBar directly addresses these needs, while still giving you the tactile feel of a physical button. ButtonBar's sleek profile and flexibility of placement is a game-changer, and we're very excited to bring this solution to market at scale with our partner Foxconn.

HS Chou, BU Head at GIS (a member of Foxconn Group) said:

The replacement of mechanical buttons has long been one of the most sought after goals in mobile manufacturing. Sentons technology is significant and Foxconn GIS is excited to partner with them to deliver at this scale."

Why would we want buttonless smartphones? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Hardware failure is limited without the presence of physical buttons to fail. There's also improved waterproofing. Sentons says its buttons don't have the apertures that current buttons do, so it can support a full IP68 enclosure rating.

On the other hand, common software issues like frozen phones are often mitigated by hardware solutions like pulling the battery or holding down a power button. Hardware solutions can help fix software glitches where software-based solutions can't, and that's one issue any OEM who adopts virtualized buttons will have to consider carefully.

7 Comments
  • No thank you.
  • Again, why? Solving a problem that just doesn't exist.
  • It makes no sense. If you need to reset the phone, how do you with no physical buttons? Is this something the world needs? Is this the natural evolution of the phone?
  • And this is why HTC's buttons are better. I know that NOBODY here in the comment section has ever used one, but the U12 Plus buttons are not virtual. HTC replaced the mechanical switch with a sensor inside the frame, but it's still a mechanical process using parts that don't wear. How do you reset it? By holding down the power button. The virtual buttons proposed by Sentons require the software to be running, HTC's buttons do not. This is the second company in the last few months to come out with an alternative to regular buttons. Both of them are using different technology from HTC, and both of them are using photos of the U12 Plus in promoting their product. That's kinda dirty on their part. And since nobody here has used a U12 Plus, let me tell you that the buttons are a benefit. It's been over a year, and after 40,000 presses, they are more reliable than an S10 fingerprint sensor. The haptic feedback is sharp and well defined, and I often find myself clicking the phone on and off in my pocket for the sensation. The buttons don't turn to vague mush when a case is used like regular buttons, and unlike the buttons that stopped working on my two LG phones, the wonky down-volume button on my S7 Edge, and the power button and home button on my iPhone 6S Plus, the U12 buttons work day in and day out. You can hand the U12 to a child and they just use the buttons without even being aware of the extra engineering that went into it.
  • IMHO - another example of the manufacturer finding ways to reduce cost, by trying to convince us the new feature is needed and better - and then increasing the device price. Does the 3.5mm headphone jack jump into mind?
  • Another "solution" looking for a problem.
  • I guess HTC phones are nothing but a glorified vibrator.
    Some things you just need to keep to yourself....