Although what Apple is about to do might seem totallynovel, in reality the first phone that went button-less was released all the way back in 2018. Tech nerds like me and you might already know the brand and name – of course, that’s the HTC U12+.
But It’s now been nearly five years since the first and last attempt at a button-less smartphone, which is why it’s truly exciting to see what The Apple can and will do with the iPhone 15 (and without buttons). Considering Cupertino’s virtually limitless R&D budget, engineering expertise, and “think different” attitude, Tim Cook & Co might just pull it off…
However, what might come as a surprise is that the new “buttons” on iPhone 15 will likely be hiding not one or two tricks that I’d like to talk about right now. Call it an analysis, an educated guess, or a prediction, but it seems to me the 2023 Apple flagship might turn out to be the biggest shift in the way we use iPhone since the 2017 iPhone X (read: the whole Face ID and gesture navigation thing).
Let’s see why…
3D Touch to make unexpected comeback on iPhone 15 without buttons; is this Apple’s crazy plan that could change the way you use iPhone?
Although it looks pretty normal, the HTC U12+ is the first phone with haptic buttons!
An important distinction to make here is that the HTC U12+ had both pressure-sensitive volume and power buttons as well as EdgeSense, which gave the phone’s frame the ability to sense how hard you squeeze it. The Pixel 2, on the other hand, had regular buttons but did include ActiveEdge, which (you guessed it) meant you could squeeze the phone to perform an action – just like the HTC.
iFixit explains Edge Sense on a more technical level
The iPhone 15’s “fake buttons” should be a combination of the iPhone 7 home button and the AirPods stem sensors
But what we want to focus on here is the “buttons” on the new iPhone, which are likely to use tech that Apple’s already used before. And wehether we’re talking about the MacBook’s trackpad that isn’t really a surface you can press but instead sends vibration feedback, or the iPhone 7’s home button which also vibrates to make you feel like you’re pressing it, Cupertino has tons of experience in making “fake buttons”.
I happen to own both a MacBook Air and an iPhone 8. In case you haven’t experienced this side of Apple’s hardware, I can reassure you that both the trackpad on the MacBook as well as the iPhone 8’s home button feel exactly like… buttons.
In addition to controlling audio from the apps you use with AirPods, the stems on AirPods Pro have Force Sensors, which (you guessed it) work and feel like buttons, letting you press/swipe on them to do things like pause and resume playback, skip tracks, answer calls, and talk to Siri.
Again, this is my own take on how things might go down, and although I don’t expect Apple to literally glue an AirPod stem onto the iPhone 15, it’s highly likely that Cupertino will want to make the pressure-sensitive “buttons” morespecial and go beyond simple power/volume controls.
New pressure-sensitive buttons on iPhone 15 could unlock a ton of new features and ways of interacting with iPhone (if Apple says so)
They won’t look anything like what you see here, but the new fake buttons on iPhone 15 might let you operate the phone like a real… camera. If Apple wants to make that happen, of course.
- Play/pause/skip music and adjust volume via the pressure-sensitive “buttons” (similar to how you do it on AirPods Pro)
- New pressure-sensitive buttons could finally make launching the camera without unlocking iPhone possible; no more missed photos (fingers crossed)
- If Apple says so, you might be able to use the new pressure-sensitive buttons as a two-stage shutter key (as they should be able to recognize different levels of pressure), or even analog zoom for taking photos/videos, where you can hold down/swipe on the buttons to zoom in and out while holding the phone with one hand
- Trigger Reachability (the iPhone’s one-handed mode); currently done by swiping down on the home bar on the bottom of the iPhone’s screen (if enabled)
- Launch Siri – currently done by holding down the power button, which is a feature I’ve turned off on my iPhone, as I tend to trigger it accidentally
- Multiple Apple Pay options depending on your input (short press, long press, double, triple press, etc.)
- Physical triggers in games – although this would prove tricky due to the iPhone’s button placement (unless Apple plans to move things around or add an Edge Sense panel, similar to that of the HTC U12+/Pixel 2)
If “quick actions” are part of Apple’s plan for the iPhone 15’s buttons, those different actions could be performed slightly differently
The technology would likely have the ability to sense both presses and taps, but also (potentially) recognize swipes (like the iPhone 8’s home button, the MacBook’s trackpad, the AirPods’ stem), which could open the doors to dozens of new ways of interacting with iPhone 15. It’s also likely that Apple will let users choose how hard they press the buttons and for how long.I would imagine the new buttons could make it so that you are able to perform different actions based on the app you are in. For example, when in music streaming apps, the buttons could act as your standard media controls (plus play/pause/skip), but offer a completely different set of functions when you’re in the camera app.
Although the leaks we have seen so far don’t point towards a pressure-sensitive frame on iPhone 15, I wouldn’t write this possibility off. If Apple was to implement something similar (we talked about it in the beginning of the story), this could let you squeeze your iPhone to perform even more actions. How likely is it that Apple will make this happen? Probably on the lower end of the spectrum.
By removing traditional buttons, Apple could make iPhone waterproof (but risks making it less reliable); Cupertino misses perfect opportunity to bring back Touch ID
Give some, take some.
Although this new tech sounds exciting, you know buton-less buttons can be tricky to use because HTC has a whole instructions page on its website dedicated to helping HTC U12+ users learn how to deal with them.
- Android’s 5 year-old button-less phone, the HTC U12+ had weak vibration feedback and often missed to register presses
- How would you turn on your iPhone 15 or take a screenshot? Haptic buttons need power to work; HTC solved this by making sure the duration of your press determined the action
- A buttonless iPhone 15 might be more water-resistant (which is a nice benefit) but harder to repair due to the technical aspect of the new buttons
But all things considered, I still believe Cupertino’s willingness to take a risk has a good chance of paying off. As I alluded in the beginning, Tim Cook & Co are working with virtually limitless resources and some of the world’s brightest engineers. Therefore, five years after the first phone with no buttons, iPhone 15 has a real shot at pulling it off properly.
Oh, by the way, although adding it to the power button of the iPhone 15 would’ve been easier than ever, it’s very (and I mean very very) unlikely Apple will bring back Touch ID. Such a missed opportunity, right?