The iPhone X leaves a home button-shaped hole in my heart
The first thing I do every morning is roll over, reach over to my nightstand, and frantically grapple at my phone to stop the alarm from going off. To do so, I instinctively mash the home button several times, with my head still face down on my pillow. Oh sure, I know that I could just hit the Stop button on the touchscreen to turn the offending sound off, but I’m much too groggy at that time to do anything beyond what feels the most instinctual — pressing a physical button.
Now, with the iPhone X, that option appears to be going away. Instead of pressing a button to unlock your phone, you’ll be swiping up from the bottom of the screen. This triggers a cascading window of apps to appear, which you have to drag down and flick away to get to the home screen. According to Senior Mobile Editor Chris Velazco in his brief hands-on with the device, he found it incredibly natural to use, despite the fact he’s been using an iPhone for years.
I don’t doubt his experience, but color me skeptical. I’ve also been an iPhone user for years — ever since the iPhone 3G — and I’m not convinced touchscreen gestures will ever replace the convenience and the practicality of a home button. For one thing, having to swipe up and then swipe again to get to the homescreen doesn’t sound like it’d be much faster than a single button press.
And then there’s the issue of Touch ID going away. Instead of using fingerprint sensors to unlock your phone, the new iPhone X will use Face ID, a facial recognition system that uses a combination of infrared light, the phone’s front-facing TrueDepth camera and specialized neural networks to authenticate your identity. According to Apple, this is a far more secure way of locking your phone. It states that while there’s a 1 in 50,000 chance for someone to steal your Touch ID phone, the chances drop to one in a million with Face ID.
I’ll concede that it does seem pretty cool that you can just look at your phone to unlock it. However, this also requires you to have the phone in front of you. I know for me, I often unlock the phone in my pocket before I even bring it up to my face to look at it, just so I have it ready to go.
There are also times when I need to unlock my phone when it’s charging — in order to install updates, for example — and I reach out to where my phone is sitting on its dock to press the button. When I’m cooking and constantly referring to a recipe on my phone, I like being able to unlock the phone without picking it up — I just touch my thumb on the button to bring it up again. Sure it won’t take that much longer to hover my face over the phone for Face ID, but there’s something about being forced to look at my phone to unlock it that strikes me as needlessly annoying.
Then there’s the issue of using it for Apple Pay. In the demo Craig Federighi did on stage, he had to press the side button twice, look at the phone and then place it on the terminal for Apple Pay to register. Right now, all I have to do get Apple Pay to work is to put my phone on the terminal with my thumb over the home button. It’s unclear if the side-button press is necessary in all instances of Apple Pay, but if it is, that sounds like a small nuisance as well.
These minor pet peeves aside, the main reason why I hold the home button dear to my heart is its simplicity. You press it to do everything — to unlock your phone, to pay for things, to get back to the home screen after watching YouTube for far too long, to turn off the alarm, to trigger Siri and to get out of a crashed app. There’s something comforting about a tactile physical failsafe button that no fancy soft touch gesture could ever replicate.
When Apple got rid of a tactile home button and replaced it with a haptic version for the iPhone 7, I was unnerved for a few days, but adjusted. When I found out the iPhone 7 didn’t have a headphone jack, I was incredibly annoyed (and still am to an extent), but I learned to live without it. And I know, that if I used the iPhone X for a few days, I’ll eventually get used to not having a home button too.
But a home button wasn’t a problem that I needed to be solved. For extra screen real estate that I never asked for. Of course, there’s always the option of the iPhone 8 for those who want a new phone and still desire a home button. And we really don’t know if the button-less design of the iPhone X will trickle down to the rest of the line. And yes, when push comes to shove, I’ll probably get used to not having that button. But I’d miss it all the same.