Apple had two major changes in iPhone 7 beyond incremental improvements. The first is the much-talked about lack of an auxiliary port for headphones, but the other will effect the way we do things far longer than the transition to Lightning audio. That’s moving from a physical Home Button to a touch-sensitive, stationary Home Button. Here’s what I thought about the iPhone 7 Home Button during my hands-on session at Apple’s media event.
Three Changes in One
We are actually getting three changes in one with the new Home Button on iPhone 7. The first is the above-mentioned transition from physical button that moves to a touch-sensitive pad. Apple is using its fantastic Taptic Engine to make it feel like the button is moving, even though it isn’t.
In my very limited testing, This element fell short of my expectations. The feedback you get makes it clear that a press has been registered, but it didn’t feel like the button was moving. When compared to the amazing Taptic Engine feedback in Apple Watch, Apple’s new trackpads, and 3D Touch on iPhone 6s, it was disappointing.
On those other devices, the haptic feedback utterly fools me. On iPhone 7’s Home Button, it did not feel like the button was being pressed. At this point I’ll iterate that my testing was brief, in a crowded and noisy room, and cursory.
Change, the Second
The second change we’re getting with this new Home Button is that it measures velocity. This could be very, very cool because it means not all presses are created equal. Out of the box, iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus allow you to call up Reachability with two light presses. This is similar to how older iPhones with Touch ID work, as noted in the comments below, but the ability to measure force could be harnessed in novel ways.
Two hard presses also work like two old Home Button presses, i.e. it brings up your running apps.
I don’t know what this ability will bring, but the potential inherent in this technology makes the above-mentioned disappointment easy to live with.
The last major change that comes with iPhone 7’s new home button is part of iOS 10 itself: the move from swipe-to-unlock to press-to-unlock. I’ve been using iOS 10 betas for a month. So far, I’ve found the press-to-unlock transition less-than-satisfying.
My main problem comes when using the Home Button on my iPhone 6s to wake up my iPhone to look at Lock Screen Notifications. Because TouchID 2 is so fast, more often than not I unlock my iPhone instead of merely waking up the display. It’s annoying, but I’ve assumed I’m just being slow to adjust.
This feature is going to play out differently on the new Home Button on iPhone 7, where I suspect it will work far better. Much testing remains to be done on this front.
Home is Where the Heart Is
My hands-on writeup seems to focus on the negative, but I’m actually quite happy with this change. For one thing, I suspect Apple will tweak Taptic Engine use until it feels right. If that happens, the new Home Button will feel as magical as the other Force Touch/3D Touch uses feel.
For another, I’m interested to see what comes out of the force sensitivity feature in the new Home Button. It could increase functionality in this button, especially as more of Apple’s iOS product line adopts this technology.
The last factor is that ditching a physical button not only removes a mechanical feature that can break, it’s part of Apple’s IP67-rated water-protection. I’ve lost an iPhone to water before. It sucks. It’s frustrating. That isn’t likely to happen again, and I say giddy-up!
That’s not only good for my devices, it means fewer people needing Genius Bar appointments for broken Home Buttons and water damage. That’s fewer people between me and the Geniuses when I do need help. Again, giddy-up!
All in all, I think the new buttonless Home Button is a winner, despite my disappointment with the pre-release haptic feedback.