Reports are circulating that Apple is quietly laying the groundwork to remove the home button from iOS devices. If and when this happens it will be a seminal event for iPad and iPhone owners. The home button has been around since the very first iPhone was released, and it's something that has become a strong part of the brand identity of iOS devices.
Mitchel Broussard reports for MacRumors:
Apple is seeking to develop an in-house single-chip solution for integrating both the touchscreen and display drivers for mobile devices onto one chip, according to a new report today from Taiwanese site DigiTimes. The touch and display driver integration (TDDI) chips would also include "integrated fingerprint sensors", potentially allowing Apple to do away with the iconic home button.
TDDI is a new advance in the industry, with Synaptics introducing the first such solution earlier this year. Synaptics created its new TDDI chips by leveraging its recent acquisition of chipmaker Renesas SP Drivers, combining Synaptics' touch technology chipset with Renasas' display technology. Apple reportedly explored acquiring Renesas SP Drivers last year but the talks failed to lead to a deal.
DigiTimes suggests Apple's solution could eliminate the traditional iOS device home button, presumably by integrating its functionality into the device's screen, something Apple has explored in previous patent applications. This could allow future iPhones to see increased display sizes with edge-to-edge screens or smaller form factors with the same 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays seen on today's models.
Force Touch removes the need for a physical home button on iOS devices
I have to admit that the report on MacRumors took me a bit by surprise, but it really shouldn't have given Apple's work with Force Touch on the Apple Watch. After using my Apple Watch, I can see how getting rid of the home button on iOS devices makes so much sense
For example, if you press hard on the Apple Watch screen when in the Messages app you'll get three additional options: Reply, Details or Send Location. It's stuff like that that makes Force Touch so useful and I can see it totally replacing the need for a physical home button on iOS devices.
Why should the home button continue to take up so much space on the iPhone and iPad when a software-based button using Force Touch could take its place? It just doesn't make any sense to keep a physical home button on the iPhone or iPad when it could easily be replaced by one that is software-based.
Force Touch will no doubt make its way into the next models of iPhone and iPad that will be released in the fall, and I'm very much looking forward to using it. My Apple Watch has spoiled me in that sense by making Force Touch so easy and comfortable to use.
At some point in the near future we'll be able to press down on the screens of our iPads and iPhones instead of having to push a physical home button. And eventually we'll also be able to simply place our finger on the screen of the iPad or iPhone to use Touch ID.
No home button might mean smaller iOS devices with the same screen size
If Apple does get rid of the home button, it would open the door for the company to produce smaller, lighter devices with the exact same screen size as the current iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. I have an iPhone 6 Plus and it's a great phone, but I would not mind at all if Apple reduced its height by getting rid of the home button. It would be easier to hold and more comfortable to carry around.
I'm not sure how much of the weight of the iPhone is in the bottom bezel where the home button is located, but I wouldn't shed any tears if the iPhone 6 Plus was even lighter than it is right now. Anything that cuts down on the weight of the device would be great.
And it's not just iPhones that would benefit from removing the home button. I have an iPad Air 2 and I absolutely love using it. But I think I'd love it even more if the home button was removed and the height and weight of the iPad Air 2 were reduced. It would make my favorite iOS device even better.
Some iOS users have mixed feelings about removing the home button
While I'm obviously very much in favor of getting rid of the home button, not everybody shares my enthusiasm. I took a quick look at the discussion thread for the Mac Rumors story that I linked to above, and there were some mixed feelings about getting rid of the home button on the iPad and iPhone:
Happydude: "...about once every two, three weeks my screen becomes unresponsive due to an app that's misbehaving or a bug that hasn't been fixed in iOS or for whatever reason. so to do away with a hard-restart option does not seem like a great idea. maybe a on/off button-volume button hard restart option would have to be instituted instead."
Aristokrat: "They definitely need to keep some kind of hardware buttons that have the ability to force quit/reboot the device. I'm so tired of all-touch devices that become practically useless once something hangs/crashes because the screen/touch buttons can't get any CPU time. Even the best developers will 100% continue to create new bugs (which is no one's fault), and there's nothing more frustrating than being locked out of your device. I recently had to de-solder the power cables in a touch-only device to get it to reboot. So stupid."
Azentropy: "On the one hand it would be nice if Apple could then use that to decrease the top/bottom bezel so we could have smaller iPhone’s with the same size screens. However I have yet to use an android device without a home button that I liked. Hopefully Apple can put something together like their wonderful trackpads which IMO are light years ahead of the other guys. On my “work” laptop I always carry a mouse because every HP, Lenovo (current) and Dell that I’ve used just has a crappy trackpad or other pointing device."
TMRJIJ: "If it is like Android devices software buttons, then no thanks."
Soupcan: "For the screen sizes they got the 6/6+ are HUGE phones, mainly because of the need for a home button and Apple's desire to make the bottom part of the phone the same size as the top part resulting in huge smartphones with relatively small screens (compared to lets say a LG G4 or a Galaxy S6). Getting rid of the home button resolves a lot of this."
Onemadrssn: "I think the phone needs a real tactile button that functions as the "oh siht" button that returns you to a familiar home screen. And by real, I mean not faked with force-touch. I mean real as in I know that I clicked it whether or not the phone is on and no software override can change the way it clicks."
Co: "...please! I played with a LG G4 and just love the almost bezel-less design of that phone. I love how they can fit a 5.5" screen into that form factor. Makes the iPhone 6 Plus look ridiculous with all that bezel."
I Am Designer: "It would mean having a larger TouchID sensor that spanned the bottom edge - integrated with those same force sensor layers from the watch.
It would mean the entire bottom bezel becomes a hit area for TouchID with a much larger reading surface - which should, in turn, make for more accurate readings.
Having a hit area for going 'home' could be accomplished by printing the small sqaure that used to exist on iPhone models back into the centre of the bezel. So, even though a deep press might take you home from anywhere along the bezel, there is some familiarity with the older physical buttons. The learning curve is shallow."
TheRainKing: "No thanks. I like having a home button. It's a good safety net when software stops working or when the touch screen becomes unresponsive. Besides, how would you put your phone into recovery or DFU mode?"
Subsonix: "I view hardware buttons as a luxury on an all touch device, it's the directness they give. Removing it would feel like a cheap cost reduction step to me."
As you can tell from this sampling of comments, there seems to be a vocal contingent of iOS users who view removing the home button with a dubious eye, to say the least. So Apple is going to have to tread carefully when they do it. Any software-based home button is going to have to work at least as well as the physical home button or the company risks a nasty backlash among some iOS users.
I think this might just be a case of some users not really understanding how well Force Touch works, particularly if they don't have an Apple Watch. Once you've seen it in action on the Apple Watch, it's easier to be more comfortable with the idea of Apple dumping the home button on the iPad and iPhone.
Don't hold your breath for iOS devices without a home button
As great as it would be if Apple removed the home button, I would not hold your breath for it either. It seems pretty clear that the next iPhones and iPads coming in the fall will still have a home button. I think we may have to wait another year after that before Apple rolls out iOS devices without home buttons.
That's okay with me though, I'd much rather that Apple took its time and got the software-based home button right instead of trying to rush it out half-baked. Plus it's going to take some additional time for the company to physically redesign the iPhone and iPad to take advantage of the lack of a physical home button.
The bottom line here is that the physical home button's days are numbered on iOS devices. I don't know about you but the removal of the home button from the iPad and iPhone can't get here soon enough for me.
Did you miss a post? Check the Eye On Apple home page to get caught up with the latest news, discussions and rumors about Apple.
This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?