New iPad, iPhone to Ditch the Home Button?
New rumors about Apple products -- even crazy ones -- are common. And yet the latest one still took us by surprise. Sources say that Apple may be planning to remove the iconic "home" button from the upcoming versions of the iPad and iPhone.
"We have exclusively been told that the reason Apple just added multitouch gestures for the iPad in the latest iOS 4.3 beta is because the iPad will be losing the home button. In addition to the home button disappearing from the iPad, we’re told that this change will make its way over to the iPhone as well," said Jonathan Geller at Boy Genius Report (BGR), a tech site with a strong record of accurate sources for technology news.
Apple is known for its minimalist design, and when the first iPhone was announced, many people were dubious as to whether a single home button was enough. Jobs was reportedly adamant that the iPhone (and later the iPod Touch and iPad, which followed the same design influences) have only one physical button on the front. In that light, it's no surprise that Jobs might demand that the home button be removed, especially if multitouch gestures could perform the same function.
However, Apple may not be so hasty in throwing out one of the most recognizable parts of Apple design.
First of all, the square icon on a circular button is part of the iconic look of Apple mobile devices. Like the screen size, which has remained basically the same while other phones have gotten bigger and bigger, the home button is as central to the Apple design aesthetic as black plastic and brushed aluminum.
Of course, there's a bigger reason than tradition for why Apple wouldn't get rid of the home button: usability. As respected industry pundit and Apple critic John Gruber points out, the home button is essential for the average user in learning how to use the iPhone interface. It's the escape button whenever they get stuck.
"That it is the one and only button on the faces of these devices is a big part of why normal people are able to pick them up, start playing with them, and figure out how to get around with no help," Gruber argues. "How in the world would a normal person figure out or guess that they need to do a 'five-finger pinch' to get back to the home screen?"
The home button is also an important part of the accessibility features for users with disabilities, so removing it would force Apple to completely rework access to those features. For instance, a blind user can press and hold the home button to use the voice control feature to call people, play music or use other features. Without a physical button to feel for, it would be harder for the blind to use this feature.
Still it's hard to ignore BGR's historically reliable sources saying that home button-less iPads are currently being tested by Apple employees. Additional multitouch gestures in iOS 4.3 certainly could obviate the need for a home button.
And to top it all off, Apple has already been moving toward making the home button obsolete. Previous versions of iOS allowed users to customize the home button so that double-clicks performed multiple functions. But with iOS 4, Apple has removed that feature, expecting users to just have shortcuts to their most used features on the home page.
The rumors of iPad testing among Apple employees also jibe with the release schedule for the device. Apple is expected to announce the iPad 2 sometime before the end of February 2011. The iPhone 5 would likely see an announcement in summer 2011, in keeping with past iPhone announcements.