Look, I know it’s probably too late, but as reports have been surfacing for a while now, Apple plans to remove the physical buttons from the iPhone 15 Pro and replace them with fixed “taptic” buttons. Some new, alleged renderings of the iPhone 15 published by 9to5Mac seem to confirm the news: it’s time to say goodbye to the physical volume rocker and power switch, at least on some upcoming models. It’s certainly too late to change anyone’s mind in Cupertino, but I’m going to defend it anyway. Please don’t remove the buttons, Apple.
For starters, there simply isn’t a haptic button that clicks as well or as reassuringly as a physical button. This is a completely objective observation based on data collected by one person: me, a person who has been pushing buttons for decades. They rule.
I also have a 2016 iPhone SE and a 2022 iPhone SE in front of me. One has a physical home button and the other has a haptic ‘button’. Press the button on the 2016 phone and voila! Travel, glorious travel. I know deep in my soul that I pressed a button. The relatively flabby haptic response of the new SE button feels lifeless and unsatisfying.
I’m resigning my case, Your Honor.
It’s not that I think each button to be saved. I admit I don’t really miss the home button. I’m fine with using on-screen navigation or gestures to get around. But that’s because I’m already looking at the screen when I’m doing something I’ve used the home button for – that’s not always the case with the volume controls or the wake button. Sometimes you want to check if the alert switch is off without taking your phone out of your pocket. Maybe you’re out in public and accidentally started blasting TikTok out of your phone’s speakers instead of your earbuds. In that scenario, I want a real button at my fingertips to reduce further embarrassment as quickly as possible.
Physical buttons don’t have this problem because they just work every time you press it
And gloves! Of course, gloves with capacitive fingertips exist, and Apple will likely figure out ways to use these so-called buttons properly with gloves. But you can’t deny that physical buttons are easier to use when you’re wearing gloves, even though these new haptic buttons are really good. The same goes for damp hands – you may have to try pressing that haptic volume button a few times if your hands are a little wet. Physical buttons don’t have this problem because they just work every time you press it. Apple knows this too – that’s why it put one on the Watch Ultra.
It’s possible that Apple could make some haptic buttons that feel almost as good as physical buttons – the Force Touch trackpad is a good example. It uses haptics to simulate the feel of pressing a button, and it’s about 95 percent as good as a trackpad with an actual button press. But here’s the thing: Why? Physical buttons work fine for us. Why replace them with a technology that is a little worse if absolutely no one asked for it?
But here’s the thing: Why?
Will removing physical buttons save some space? Will it reduce weather sealing costs? Is this just a stopover on the way to a little black box with no buttons and no ports? Will it be the ultimate manifestation of Steve Jobs’ hatred of buttons? I feel like it is and that the switch to a buttonless iPhone has very little to do with the person using the phone and much more to do with aesthetics.
If this is the future we should be looking forward to – and it looks like it is – then I think all we can do is cherish and protect the buds we have left. Because really, what’s next, cars??