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There’s already little doubt that Microsoft will be changing things up with Windows Phone 8.1, the next update to the company’s somewhat undervalued and under-adopted mobile operating system. With the war against Apple and Google being lost, Microsoft knows it needs to make changes.

With BUILD 2014 already touted as being the first public outing of Windows Phone 8.1, rumors are about as to what Microsoft will change in its smartphone operating system. Talk of a Notification Center-like addition as well as Siri-like digital assistant using the voice of Halo’s Cortana has been the order of the day, and now renowned Twitter leaker @evleaks may have shown us an important step in the Windows Phone evolution.

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The leaked image appears to be a cropped screenshot of on-screen buttons that would replace the hardware ones that currently adorn every Windows Phone device. The well known Back, Start and Search buttons that sit below the screen of all Windows Phone smartphones currently on sale are shown in the screenshot, suggesting that Microsoft is about to move those hardware buttons into software. It’s a move that Google has been working with hardware makers to implement for a couple of years now with Android, and it seems that Microsoft will be joining in next year.

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While it may initially seem rather inconsequential, this move could actually prove to be a master stroke. With Microsoft already struggling to get device makers to concentrate on Windows Phone handsets in a world where all the action is on Android, removing hardware buttons may make it easier for hardware partners to design one handset and then ship it with either Windows Phone or Android installed, reducing the development required as well as manufacturing costs.

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Whether such a move would be enough to get Windows Phone further up the totem pole at the big hardware companies remains to be seen, but it certainly can’t hurt. We’ll find out at 2014′s BUILD conference by the looks of things, so until then we’ll just have to take @evleaks’ word for it.

History would dictate that’s not such a bad idea.

(source: Evleaks Twitter)

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