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I'm fairly new to android development, but am I long time android user. Phones used to have a "hardware" menu button, which I have since seen is emulated in software, but only when I'm running an 'old' app on my phone ("three dots stacked on top of each other that appears to the right of all the other buttons)

Why is writing apps that make use of the button discouraged?

Is it not supported by most phones?

Is it a bad user experience? ('swipe down from top to access soft buttons', etc..)

closed as off-topic by bmdixon, Matthew Read Jun 4 '15 at 20:47

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Because it's less congnitive effort to press an icon that is somewhere in your vision (on the screen), than remembering that the option is hidden under the menu button.From the design perspective, you want as less options hidden in some menu somewhere, and more options that are more intuitively-placed.

Android 4.0 introduced multitasking button to its navigation, so, if the menu button was kept there, there would be four navigation buttons, and that would be confusing. Menu button was replaced by options in the Action Bar, and Action Overflow button (shown below).

Action Overflow button, courtesy of Android Developers

Basically every manufacturer switched to multitask button instead of menu button (even Samsung, who lingered with the menu button for a while), so you could say that, now, in 2015, phones with this legacy button are becoming more scarce, so the development of the software that takes advantage of the legacy button is discouraged.

  • The HTC Aria had 4 nav buttons (hardware capcitive) which were Home, menu back and search, holding home was about equal to the recents button of 4.0 and not all 4.0+ phones had a recent buttons (ZTE Radiant) I not once found the buttons confusing under any circumstance on either phone – DanHolli Nov 15 '17 at 5:26
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Back in 2012 google basically told developers that the Menu button was going away. Although it's not an official Android "rule" (not that I could find, at least), it's a strong Android guideline that phones no longer have menu buttons. It's a very recent development, and we should be seeing the majority of menu-button phones leaving the wild this year (my personal Galaxy Note 3 has a physical menu button but I'm due to upgrade in November).

As for why, I honestly don't know. It's the subject of some debate, but nobody seems to be able to site an official Google source as to why they did it. Maybe it's so the bottom OS navigation bar on touch-screen only phones (like the Nexus 5 and 6, and the Moto X) could disappear without hiding app-relevant actions. Maybe Google wanted fewer buttons on phones with physical/soft button. Maybe Google just felt like it. I couldn't find any source that gave a specific reason as to why it was done.

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