23 Mar 2016

Hardware Home Buttons Are Better

Some phones have a hardware home button, while others have a software button. The former is better, for many reasons:

First, a hardware button lets you integrate a fingerprint reader. Phones that don’t have a hardware home button have to put the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone, where you can’t access it if the phone is on a table.

Second, you can press the hardware button to wake up the device.

Third, you can press and hold it to issue a voice command (like “turn off the alarm”), which you can’t with an onscreen button.

Fourth, you can tell which side is up when the phone is on a table. Modern smartphones are too symmetrical, so it’s sometimes confusing which side is up. A hardware home button introduces asymmetry, which solves this problem [1].

Fifth, software home buttons disappear when you’re viewing a photo or video full-screen. Non-tech-savvy users like my mom don’t always know or remember that you need to tap the screen or swipe from the top to make the home button reappear. They can feel stuck. On an iDevice, it’s hassle-free and much quicker to exit a playing video. Smartphones have become too complex, and disappearing home buttons add to that complexity.

There are many great reasons for hardware home buttons.

[1] Apple should have given the home button a distinctive color, so that you can tell at a glance.

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