As it stands, Windows Phone 8 smartphones feature 3 hardware capacitive buttons at the bottom of the device. One is the back button, the other is the Start button, and one is the search button, all of which sort of helps identify that it is a Windows Phone device (primarily thanks to the Start button, we suppose). However it seems that in the future, Microsoft will apparently be relaxing some of their hardware requires for Windows Phone manufacturers and it is possible that OEMs will soon be able to build Windows Phone devices without hardware capacitive buttons.
The reasoning behind this is to help cut costs, especially for smaller OEMs who might not have as much resources, and who might not be designing the phones themselves and are purchasing reference designs from other companies. To make up for the lack of said buttons, it has been suggested that Microsoft is currently experimenting with on-screen buttons to ensure that functionality will not be affected by users who are used to the buttons on their phones, such as building apps around the back button and such. Google has built similar functionality into Android, so it wouldn’t be a complete stretch of the imagination if Microsoft were to follow suit.
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