The physical button’s time is up. Ironically, it will be detonated through a button (a red button that is). It’s already happening I’m afraid. Like the DVD and the floppy disk before it the physical button is being pushed out. Everyone’s ditching them. Almost all Android phone manufacturers and most modern Windows tablets and phones feature no physical button. The power button will probably last the longest for obvious reasons, but the buttons you use most will almost certainly be fully touch in just a few years.
The physical home button is a dead man walking, Apple just need to remove the crutches and Samsung will follow (half joking). First of all how is it basically dead? I couldn’t find any exact figures, but there has been a trend to touch buttons ever since Android 2.0. Over the years, manufacturers have come to realise the benefits of the touch button. Now, just because the sheep all run across the bridge, it doesn’t mean that Apple will follow. But in this case they will. It’s already happening.
Apple just recently completely removed any physical movement from their new trackpad. The iPhone’s fingerprint scanner is so fast that the home button only requires a half press to unlock the phone. This is a move by Apple to make the transition between touchscreen and external control (e.g. mouse) seamless. When the iPhone no longer has a physical button, you’ll be able to glide seamlessly, between experiences. Flick gestures and swipes are the future after all.
Touch buttons also have other benefits. It’s better for the manufacturer as they save costs from a reduced parts count and for the user who doesn’t need to have ‘going to the phone home button repair shop’ on their calendar as a yearly event.
There is a problem however, simply getting rid of the physical button doesn’t solve much. It needs a successor. Many implementations exist, but the two most common are on-screen buttons and capacitive buttons.
On screen buttons are not just shown on the screen but are baked into the OS. Just like on screen keyboards they can be updated and changed depending on usage. They aren’t perfect however, often they’re not distinct enough compared to the rest of the screen and they are way too easy to actuate. I’d like a penny for every time I’ve accidentally closed an app whilst trying to do something else because I would be one rich motherfudger. Thankfully, on screen buttons are so adaptive that they don’t need to permanent which allows for a more immersive entertainment experience.
Capacitive buttons I have less nice words for. They’re basically like a normal physical button but without a push mechanism. Think of the touch button on the Xbox One and 360. They’re better than mechanical buttons, but don’t add anything. I’d also like this moment to tell Samsung to turn the brightness on their buttons, those are lethal; you could blind someone at that luminosity.
Eventually, all buttons will become part of the screen. We’ll all use on-screen buttons and be happier for it. Let’s just make it happen faster!