Look, I know it’s probably too late, but reports have been circulating for quite some time that Apple intends to replace the physical buttons on the iPhone 15 Pro with solid-state “taptic” buttons. Some new, alleged renders of the iPhone 15 published by 9to5Mac appear to confirm the news: the physical volume rocker and power switch are on their way out, at least on some upcoming models. It’s probably too late to change anyone’s mind in Cupertino, but I’ll make my case anyway. Apple, please don’t remove the buttons.
To begin with, no haptic button feels as good or as reassuringly clicky as a physical button. This is a completely objective observation based on data gathered by one person: me, a person who has spent decades pressing buttons. They are in charge.
In addition, I’m holding a 2016 iPhone SE and a 2022 iPhone SE. The first has a physical home button, while the second has a haptic “button.” Simply press the button on the 2016 phone, and voilà! Travel, wonderful travel. Deep within my soul, I know I pressed a button. The new SE’s button’s comparatively weak haptic response feels lifeless and unsatisfying.
I respectfully submit my case, your honour.
Not that I believe every button should be saved. I’ll admit that I don’t miss the home button all that much. I’m fine with using on-screen or gesture navigation. But that’s because I’m already looking at the screen when I use the home button which isn’t always the case with the volume controls or the wake button. You might want to double-check that the alert switch is turned off without taking your phone out of your pocket. Maybe you’re out in public and accidentally started playing TikTok through your phone’s speakers rather than your earbuds. In that case, I’d like to have a real button at my disposal to alleviate any further shame as soon as possible.
Also, gloves! Sure, gloves with capacitive fingertips exist, and Apple will almost certainly engineer ways for these fake buttons to work with gloves. Even if these new haptic buttons are excellent, you can’t deny that physical buttons are easier to use when wearing gloves. The same is true for damp hands — if your hands are a little wet, you may need to try a few times to press the haptic volume button. Physical buttons do not have this issue because they always work when pressed. Apple is aware of this, which is why it included one on the Watch Ultra.
Apple may be able to create haptic buttons that feel almost as good as physical ones the Force Touch trackpad is a good example. It simulates the feel of a button press using haptics, and it’s about 95% as good as a trackpad with a real button press. But here’s the kicker: why? Physical buttons are perfectly functional for us. Why replace them with a slightly inferior technology when absolutely no one asked for it?
But here’s the kicker: why?
Will the removal of physical buttons save any space? Will it reduce the cost of weather sealing? Is this just a pit stop on the way to a small black box with no buttons or ports? Will it be the pinnacle of Steve Jobs’ aversion to buttons? I believe it is, and that the move to a buttonless iPhone has much less to do with the person using the phone and much more to do with aesthetics.
If this is the future we have to look forwards to and it appears to be then all we can do is cherish and protect the buttons we still have. Because, honestly, what’s next, cars?