No, the iPhone home button is not dead (yet)

Posted:
in iPhone edited August 2017
Gesture controls are the touchscreen equivalent of keyboard shortcuts on a traditional computer -- that is to say they are meant for pro users. For that reason, users shouldn't expect that Apple will kill off the iPhone home button entirely anytime soon, despite radical changes expected on the pro-focused "iPhone 8."


"iPhone 8" (or "iPhone Pro") UI mockups, via Maksim Petriv.


The home button has been a staple of the iPhone since the first model launched in 2007, but all signs point to the physical button being removed with this year's flagship "iPhone 8."

Many assumed that Apple would simply introduce a dynamic, virtual home button on the handset, which some have taken to calling an "iPhone Pro."

The logic: A software home button could function the same as a physical one, but disappear when needed to offer extra screen real estate. And with Apple's Taptic Engine, pressing a virtual home button can feel just as real as clicking a physical one.

A virtual home button would be the simplest transition -- continuing with an established and simple user input method, but doing away with the physical button.

Those assumptions, however, may not be correct. The latest rumors claim that instead of tapping a virtual home button, users will invoke new gesture controls to accomplish tasks like returning to the home screen and switching between apps for multitasking.


Software bar concept via Steven Troughton-Smith.


According to Bloomberg, a new "thin, software bar" will be shown at the bottom of the screen. Users can drag it up to the middle of the screen to open the phone.

While in an app, users will reportedly drag upward to invoke multitasking, and continue dragging to return to the home screen.

This may be convenient. It may even be faster and more intuitive. But for most users, that won't matter.

Premium (and pro) for a reason

This year's "iPhone Pro" is expected to have a $999 starting price and to be available in limited quantities. To offset that, Apple is also expected to introduce a new "iPhone 7s" lineup, likely priced at the traditional $649 entry.

The rumors about a radical new design and new gesture controls help make it clear that these two devices will likely be marketed for two very different types of users.

Given that Apple will likely sell upwards of 75 million iPhones this holiday quarter, many of those users are likely to prefer an experience that is comfortable and familiar. For them, the price of an "iPhone 8," combined with a shakeup in how the device will be used on a daily basis, could be enough to make the "iPhone 7s" a preferable purchase.


Apple is expected to offer an "iPhone 7s" series -- with home button -- alongside the "iPhone 8."


And that's key, because if the "iPhone 8" is so mind blowingly spectacular, why on earth would anyone want to buy an "iPhone 7s?" The products will need to stand out on their own, appealing to different markets. And the type of users who will spend over $1,000 on a phone might be more likely to embrace change -- an iPhone pro user, if you will.

For the reset of the world, change can be difficult. Just ask Apple, who was caught off guard by demand for the legacy design of the iPhone SE -- an established, familiar size and form factor that clearly resonated with a significant group of users.

Don't count out the value of simplicity

One of the reasons the first iPhone (and iPad) proved so successful came from simplicity. The touchscreen allows you to interact with content, but if you ever find yourself lost or in a bind, there is literally one button in front of you to press, and it returns you to the familiar home screen.

While the average AppleInsider reader may understand the intricacies of iOS, the reality is the majority of iPhone users don't know -- or even care -- how to use those types of advanced functions.

For many of those customers, the appeal of the iPhone is how simple it is. There is no need to worry about viruses, there is no need to dive deep to manage settings and customize, and yes, there is only one button to worry about.


The groundwork has already been laid on iPad

For years now, the iPad has boasted four- and five-finger multi-touch gestures for actions like returning to the home screen or switching between apps. That has led to speculation that the iPad, and not the iPhone, might be the first to ditch the home button.

That's not expected to be the case anymore, but it's easy to see where a future iPad Pro might boast an edge-to-edge display without a home button, just like the "iPhone 8" is expected to have.

It's also easy to see a situation where an iPad Pro sans home button exists alongside an entry-level iPad that retains a home button -- not just because of costs, but also because that easy-to-use home button presents a lower barrier to entry for new iPad users.




Even stronger indications of the expected "iPhone Pro" interface were unveiled earlier this year, when iOS 11 was introduced for the iPad. Apple's touchscreen tablet will gain a number of unique features with iOS 11, most notably an app dock that can be invoked by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. Swiping further presents the iPad multitasking view.

As it turns out, this new swipe distance gesture sounds very similar to how the home button replacement is rumored to work on the "iPhone 8."

Having said that, who knows what the future brings?

All new skills are learned and adoption takes time. While simple, pinch-to-zoom was, at some point, a new concept for virtually all first-time iPhone users.

Heck, even the original iPhone's accelerometer-based auto-screen-rotate feature was viewed as magical back in 2007. Now it's just a basic function on seemingly any device.

For now, the iPhone home button brings comfort to many users. An iPhone without any sort of home button -- physical or virtual -- will be too radical of a change for a certain segment of customers. For them, Apple will happily sell an "iPhone 7s," or an iPhone SE.

Bleeding edge customers who need the latest and greatest and are willing to re-learn how to interact with their iPhone will flock to the latest model. The design shakeup would allow for a clear differentiation, and help justify the continued existence of the "iPhone 7s" lineup beyond pricing disparity.




It's hard to see Apple ditching the home button from all iPhone models at any point in the near future. In addition to the high costs associated with edge-to-edge OLED displays, the home button has become such a crucial part of the iOS user experience -- and, as a result, customer's daily lives -- that pushing to quickly abandon it doesn't make sense.

Such a monumental shift isn't akin to the switch from 30-pin to Lightning, which Apple pushed as quickly as possible. This is a radical rethink on how the iPhone user experience works, and many customers will be resistant to that change.

Years from now, the mentality could be very different, and home buttons could disappear entirely, just like mice -- and, later, trackpads -- replaced trackballs.

But at least for the foreseeable future, the iPhone home button is here to stay, and a user experience without it will be intended for pros only.
wonkothesanepatchythepirate
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 73
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,292member
    Interesting piece. Thanks.

    No mention of the value of TouchID to applePay though.

    And my dad refused trackpads and even mice in favor of the trackball. His hand shook as he got older. Yes, a disability, but far from an uncommon one.
    nhughesSoliRacerhomieX
  • Reply 2 of 73
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 750editor
    eightzero said:
    Interesting piece. Thanks.

    No mention of the value of TouchID to applePay though.

    And my dad refused trackpads and even mice in favor of the trackball. His hand shook as he got older. Yes, a disability, but far from an uncommon one.
    I remain skeptical that Apple will ditch Touch ID entirely, but considering most rumors (aside from that one test video showing it in the Apple logo) say that Touch ID is gone, I have to defer to current rumor mill hive mind consensus. A switch to facial recognition-only would present new challenges for Apple, though, I think. Informally, I see a lot of people in the wild with Touch ID phones who still enter their passcode to unlock, perhaps out of some sort of paranoia about having their fingerprint scanned. Having your face scanned will go over even worse, I'd imagine.

    UI changes also present accessibility challenges, as you aptly noted. An iPhone sans home button would likely need some form of a virtual home button for disabled users, which already sort of exists in the form of AssistiveTouch. Which presents an interesting idea: 

    Consider the number of people who are not disabled who use AssistiveTouch (again, informally — as with Touch ID opt-outs — I see this quite frequently in the wild). Apparently the use of AssistiveTouch is especially common in eastern markets, where there are concerns about the home button breaking. It makes me wonder, would an iPhone that requires a new gesture to return to the home screen actually drive up use of AssistiveTouch among users who are not disabled? And what would that indicate to Apple about user habits and preferences?

    I'm not saying that's necessarily the case, of course. But old habits die hard.
    Solibeowulfschmidt
  • Reply 3 of 73
    nhughes said:
    I remain skeptical that Apple will ditch Touch ID entirely
    This is beyond reproach at this point. It is incredibly obvious this phone was designed from the start without Touch ID. You don't end up with world class 3D imaging technology 2 years ahead of the closest runner up when stringing it along as a back up in case "Touch under the glass doesn't work out", to quote the absurdity put forth by the rumor mill a few months ago.
    edited August 2017 jwdawsoStrangeDaysRacerhomieXrepressthislolliver
  • Reply 4 of 73
    This article is correct. From here out this is a "Pro" model for advanced users. I'll enjoy it, but many types of users are not ready / not capable of handling this kind of UI.

    There will be (other) iPhones with Home Buttons for a long, long time.
    RacerhomieXmacplusplus
  • Reply 5 of 73
    jwdawsojwdawso Posts: 355member
    Any thoughts on the alleged longer power button? Wouldn't surprise me if it doubled as a home button. 
    jony0baconstangRacerhomieX
  • Reply 6 of 73
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 750editor
    world class 3D imaging technology 2 years ahead of the closest runner up
    How do you know this? What if Apple's solution is found to be irreparably flawed, and the hardware is duped by something simple and easy to reproduce? Wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened.

    To be clear, I don't think that *will* happen. But I do have questions about security when it comes to facial recognition technology that can supposedly identify a user from extreme angles. To me that seems like a potential security exploit, beyond the aforementioned creepiness factor.

    I hope and assume Apple has addressed these issues in new and exciting ways. But until the product is announced, spitballing is the best we can do.
    bonobob
  • Reply 7 of 73
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 750editor
    jwdawso said:
    Any thoughts on the alleged longer power button? Wouldn't surprise me if it doubled as a home button. 
    There was some speculation that perhaps Apple would embed Touch ID into the power/lock button, but no rumors or leaks have suggested that will be the case. Doubling as a home button would be problematic — how would you lock the device, or differentiate between locking and returning to the home screen?
    repressthisjwdawso
  • Reply 8 of 73
    robjnrobjn Posts: 203member
    "Gestures are shortcuts for pro users"

    No. They are essential for anyone to navigate iOS.

    The home button is gone! I can't think of a accessibility case but there might be one - in which case a virtual button might stick around as an accessibility option.
  • Reply 9 of 73
    Uh...no kidding! Apple is about to launch the iPhone 7s, 7s Plus, also the recent all new iPad lineup and maybe a new SE next Spring all of which including Touch ID home button. One model is rumored to ditch a physical home button and commonsense flies out the window?? 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 73
    With a title like that, I was expecting this article to feature more moose.
  • Reply 11 of 73
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,692member
    nhughes said:
    jwdawso said:
    Any thoughts on the alleged longer power button? Wouldn't surprise me if it doubled as a home button. 
    There was some speculation that perhaps Apple would embed Touch ID into the power/lock button, but no rumors or leaks have suggested that will be the case. Doubling as a home button would be problematic — how would you lock the device, or differentiate between locking and returning to the home screen?
    The sensor is already small enough that this seems plausible, but as you note there's no such rumours that this is the case. At this point some HW leak would indicate this may   be the case; if not a leak of the sleep/wake button itself, I'd think case makers would note that they've been given designs that request a cut away around the button.
  • Reply 12 of 73
    eightzero said:
    No mention of the value of TouchID to applePay though.
    Because this isn't a thing. ApplePay has nothing to do with Touch ID. Apple's security mechanisms are why Apple Pay is acceptable to the industry. Touch ID is a convenience feature, that lets you skip entering a password. It has nothing to do with the overall security protocols in place. For this reason, Touch ID is interchangeable with any equally high quality convenience feature that Apple develops.
  • Reply 13 of 73
    jwdawso said:
    Any thoughts on the alleged longer power button? Wouldn't surprise me if it doubled as a home button. 
    :eyeroll

    It would surprise just about everyone, including everyone at Apple.
  • Reply 14 of 73
    I believe some people are making too big of a deal about the loss of the physical home button. I don't think the average consumer is that finicky about losing a physical home button as long as there's a virtual home button to take its place. I don't see that as being some difficult thing that users will be unable to figure out or be frightened of. It's hardly an iPhone deal-breaker. All the complaints about the iPhone having some huge chin bezel will finally go away. Apple had to make a change at some point and they're doing it with the top-tier iPhone. The traditionalists will still be able to buy their traditional iPhones with a chin bezel this year but it's simply not going to stay that way forever. As new iPhone users come to the iOS platform, they're not going to be tied to the past. It's out with the old and in with the new.
    macky the macky
  • Reply 15 of 73
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,692member
    This is beyond reproach at this point. It is incredibly obvious this phone was designed from the start without Touch ID. You don't end up with world class 3D imaging technology 2 years ahead of the closest runner up when stringing it along as a back up in case "Touch under the glass doesn't work out", to quote the absurdity put forth by the rumor mill a few months ago.
    1) I'm not sure reproach is the correct term here. Questioning the likelihood of a rumour is not the same thing as showing disapproval.

    2) As for being incontrovertible, while the odds may be stakes in its favour we should assume nothing is absolute until Apple mentions it. Hell, even Apple makes statements that don't come to fruition. Often with self-imposed deadlines, but other time with things like resolution independence in macOS or open sourcing FaceTime. Even the notion that the sun will rise tomorrow morning is just a hypothesis—and we should never forget that.
    watto_cobramuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 16 of 73
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 750editor
    nhughes said:
    world class 3D imaging technology 2 years ahead of the closest runner up
    How do you know this? 
    Just stop. 

    If this is the best you can do, you shouldn't be writing about Apple.
    We can disagree, but if you want to insult me, you won't last much longer here on the forums.
    Solibaconstanggatorguygregoriusmavon b7eightzerofastasleepstarwarswatto_cobrabb-15
  • Reply 17 of 73
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,692member
    nhughes said:
    world class 3D imaging technology 2 years ahead of the closest runner up
    How do you know this? 
    Just stop. 

    If this is the best you can do, you shouldn't be writing about Apple.
    You were asked a simple question about how you know what the landscape of 3D imagine will be in 2 years and couldn't even reply with a simple hypothesis of why you believe Apple is so far ahead of the completion. :worried: 

    nhughesbaconstangrepressthiswatto_cobrabb-15
  • Reply 18 of 73
    nhughes said:
    world class 3D imaging technology 2 years ahead of the closest runner up
    How do you know this? What if Apple's solution is found to be irreparably flawed, and the hardware is duped by something simple and easy to reproduce? Wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened.

    To be clear, I don't think that *will* happen. But I do have questions about security when it comes to facial recognition technology that can supposedly identify a user from extreme angles. To me that seems like a potential security exploit, beyond the aforementioned creepiness factor.

    I hope and assume Apple has addressed these issues in new and exciting ways. But until the product is announced, spitballing is the best we can do.
    Do you honestly think Apple would toss such a key feature as TouchID without making sure the replacement is just as good if not better? Sure, I think even Apple can make mistakes but I doubt this will be one of them. People are always asking for changes when it comes to Apple products (the old lack of innovation meme), yet when Apple does make some change, it's endlessly questioned. I never had a problem with the chin bezel on an iPhone but apparently that TouchID button became decidedly ancient in a world that required bezel-less displays. Apple was said to be falling behind in display size and it was a huge concern to all the powers that be. The iPhone was doomed.

    So Apple gives the world a bezel-less display and now what? No one wants a TouchID sensor on the back of the iPhone. No, never! If Apple didn't have an embedded touch sensor ready, then what could Apple do? Caught between a rock and a hard place maybe FacialID was Apple's only option. Voiced complaints, no matter what.
    edited August 2017 StrangeDaysbaconstangmacky the mackywatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 73
    nhughesnhughes Posts: 750editor
    nhughes said:
    world class 3D imaging technology 2 years ahead of the closest runner up
    How do you know this? What if Apple's solution is found to be irreparably flawed, and the hardware is duped by something simple and easy to reproduce? Wouldn't be the first time something like that has happened.

    To be clear, I don't think that *will* happen. But I do have questions about security when it comes to facial recognition technology that can supposedly identify a user from extreme angles. To me that seems like a potential security exploit, beyond the aforementioned creepiness factor.

    I hope and assume Apple has addressed these issues in new and exciting ways. But until the product is announced, spitballing is the best we can do.
    Do you honestly think Apple would toss such a key feature as TouchID without making sure the replacement is just as good if not better? 
    No. I don't actually think they would do that, which is exactly why I said in the second paragraph of my comment: "To be clear, I don't think that *will* happen." The point of that comment was to call out the blind heaping of praise on an unannounced product/feature (saying it's two years ahead of the competition, sight unseen).
    Solirepressthis
  • Reply 20 of 73
    My spontaneous reaction to the article was: this sounds quite plausible. 

    Here is my rationale:

    1. I would suppose that the vast majority of readers/contributors in this forum are way above average regarding skills and knowledge with respect to the iPhone. Thus, this here is the power user group that basically would have quite little trouble moving from a home button to whatever it's replacement might be. 
    It is enough just to google about Tipps and tricks in connection with using the iPhone and you'd be surprised how seemingly basic those "tricks" are. This is because a big group of the users of iPhone don't use the majority of its features. Heck, even I just recently found how to use the accessibility feature to have the led flash upon receiving a notification. And I'm very sure even though I have no hard data to support this, that a great number of people love the iPhone because of its hassle free usage. Including no viruses, no fragmentation hell, and "it just works". This definitely includes a home button. 

    2. As was pointed out correctly IMO there is a difference between changing the connector type and changing a fundamental paradigm in the UI. MAYBE Aplle can dip its toe in the water with the pro model and if it just doesn't work out they can much easier ditch it as opposed to changing the whole lineup to buttonless and then back. 

    3. Regarding the "designed from the ground up" topic. Roadmaps don't work with many parallels and are not fundamentally changed unless something very critical and ubresolvable has been detected in the course. Now, a sensible approach to reduce risk is to crack the toughest nuts FIRST. that is, if "faceID" and its alternatives are on the critical path you evaluate and decide upon them first. Then you have the fundamental design and work out the kinks. this is how it usually works, independent of what industry you talk. Therefore, I do not think there was some last minute change on a very fundamental design decision. Whatever we're gonna see soon was finalized long time ago. 
    nhughesStrangeDays
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