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Why did Apple remove the home button?

There are quite a few reasons why removing the home button is good… and why it is bad. Is it the right decision? Who knows? Only time will tell. But it’s interesting to note that historically, it seems people criticize Apple on design and concepts… only to watch them turn it into a commercial success, they have their competitors copy those same features being criticized.

Here are a few plausible reasons on why Apple removed the home button:

One less component to worry about

The home button represents a fingerprint scanner, which has security coupling, and it also represents something that moves which can and does fail. Removing it means one less thing to worry about. Though they did put in a face scanner.

When the home button was added to the original iPhone, it was a brilliantly simple way to help people transition to the paradigm of actual multitouch.

It was kind of a catch-all. A permanent fixture of the device that you knew was what you could resort to when you want to leave the app you’re in. It was supposed to ease the learning curve of a device with which the primary interactions was with the multitouch display.

apple home button

So a physical home button is no longer necessary. Neither is an always-there software home button. That’s because no matter what the gesture or methodology of returning to home is, people will understand it now because we’ve lived in this paradigm for over 10 years.

Removing the physical home button means less mechanical parts to assemble, fewer things to break, and better waterproofing. It also means you can put a larger screen on a smaller device. From a design perspective, it was bad to ever put it on the iPhone in the first place, so why did Apple do it?

The answer is usability. Back when the iPhone first came out, nobody was familiar with how to navigate a smartphone user interface, and ideas like swiping and finger gestures were new concepts to most users. The home button was an intuitive way to prevent people from getting lost and frustrated.

Real estate

Apple took out the 3.5mm audio jack for internal volume real estate. The home button represents surface area real estate. Removing it allows the screen to extend to the bottom of the phone. Apple removed the Home button to provide a bigger screen in roughly the same space as the existing iPhone (the iPhone X is a little bigger) and improve the user experience.

apple home buttonApple’s vision for the future of smartphones, whether or not you agree, is a piece of glass and metal that is all screen. And the removal of a permanent, large piece of UI that hogs front-side real estate is one step closer to that vision.

Minimalism

Apple seems to be pretty into minimalism. The home button stands out like a big zit on the face of the phone. Removing it clears it up from an aesthetics point of view… though that camera notch at the top is kind off-putting. To accomplish a full front screen Apple needed to resolve the home button quagmire. The home button became haptic and virtual in the iPhone 7 series. This freed up the physical space below the button, but it also set upon a shift.

Internal logistics

Ever open up an iPhone? The home button is attached to the body with its own dedicated cable. So you can’t just pop the front face and swing things out. No… there is a cable there. Removing the home button means removal of that cable, and all of the ribbon cables can be routed through the top, where the other connectors and 3d camera connections are. It greatly simplifies things and means better potential economies in the internal space usage. How that pans out, however, depends on what Apple actually did.

It’s one step closer to a completely sealed unit. No intrusion paths for water or dust with wireless charging, wireless headphones, and no moving parts.

To enforce a new behavior pattern

Apple is pushing out Face ID. Not only would it increase the cost of producing a phone with a fingerprint scanner AND a face scanner, but it would allow people to hold back and keep using the fingerprint scanner. Removing one and adding the other one forces the choice.

Apple could have just embedded a Touch ID sensor under the screen but this places something in the middle of where the new battery would be. The entire lower portion of the iPhone X is the battery.

Thus Apple’s solution was to shift directions and move the biometrics to Face ID. They also signed new functionality to the power button along with a new set of gestures and the way a double click on the home button would have worked.

Apple painted themselves into a corner by adding Touch ID fingerprint recognition to the home button, which made it more difficult to get rid of the button when Apple decided to go to a full touchscreen on the front face.

 

The iPhone X is only the beginning

Apple’s face scanner uses 3D mapping to determine your facial structure. It’s a different approach and one which has additional application developer use cases for entertainment, potential therapeutic uses(self-image and identity disorders), and even provide additional assistive technologies(lip reading and/or sign language dictation for those who are mute).

But ultimately, Apple made the decision to let the world know that going forward, they are removing the home button. It would have been nice if they could have done it without introducing a notch in the top of the display, but the new technology they are introducing is intriguing.

And the best way to get more people on board with your new technological direction is to direct people to use it. By removing the home button, they accomplish that. It becomes a simple decision. It streamlines the end user experience, the hardware design process, and the software development.

We won’t know until enough people get their hands on an iPhone X to give it a thorough going-over. But even if it is just a different user experience that doesn’t necessarily make it a worse user experience. One thing is sure: a bigger screen in roughly the same space is not a bad thing. It is the impact that has on the other aspects of using the iPhone that we will have to wait and see.

 

Final thoughts

Apple is doing what Apple always does, they create and then move on just as the rest of the world catches up. There was no reason to hold on to the vestige of a mechanical button and as time moves on, all of them will disappear.

Apple removed the home button because it prevented them from making a full-screen bezel-less display, and they were able to do it because users understand smartphones well enough to use the bottom-swipe as an alternative to a mechanical button.

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