A change to the iPhone’s Home button was long-rumored, but when Phil Schiller confirmed the existence of the iPhone 7’s solid state Home button, that’s when you knew it was for real.
The iPhone 7 isn’t Apple’s first foray into this area, as the MacBook line has taken a similar approach with its trackpad. But the iPhone is way more popular than the Mac and more people own and use iPhones when compared to the Mac.
It’s common knowledge that the majority of Apple’s profits are generated by the iPhone, so a fundamental change to the device’s primary hardware input method wasn’t something for Apple hardware engineers to take lightly.
The good news is that, despite initial criticism, the iPhone 7 Home button is actually quite good once you get used to it. While it does have a few downsides, the change has produced several new positive side effects as well.
The Home button won’t wear out
The Touch ID Home button introduced with the iPhone 5s quelled much of the hardware issues with the Home button, but any time there’s a moving part, it elevates the risk of potential failure. The new Home button has no moving parts, which means that there are fewer potential points of failure. Instead, it uses the Taptic Engine to simulate clicks.
How to customize the Home button on iPhone 7
The old Home button’s click occurred because you were physically moving the button upon pressing it. If you didn’t enjoy the way the click of the Home button felt, you just had to live with it. With the iPhone 7, this is no longer the case.
When you go through iOS’ initial setup process on the iPhone 7, you’ll encounter a new setup screen for the Home button. It’s here where you can choose between three click sensitivity levels. After initial setup, you can go back to Settings → General → Home Button to alter click sensitivity.
Hands on video
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Fewer ingress points
We can debate about Apple’s motivation to alter the Home button on the iPhone 7. Was it because it wanted to improve water resistance? Was it due to the way customers in Asia abstained from using the mechanical Home buttons on products past? Is Apple conditioning us for a radical new iPhone redesign for its 10th anniversary iPhone 8?
A solid state Home button can only improve water resistance
It’s possible that all three conjectures may be true. What we do know for sure, however, is that the iPhone 7 claims to be water resistant — a first for an iPhone. It goes without saying, then, that eliminating a physical Home button with more ingress points would go a long way towards shoring up the device against taking on water.
It feels good
One of the reasons that I love my MacBook’s Force Touch trackpad is because every click feels the same, no matter where you click on the trackpad’s surface. Because it’s no longer relying on mechanical parts, it can sense the same amount of pressure from anywhere on the trackpad.
When it comes to a surface area as small as the iPhone 7’s Home button, such factors don’t come into play nearly as much, yet there’s more consistency when it comes to Home button presses. The Home button on the iPhone 7 feels more responsive than the old mechanical Home button, as long as you ensure that you make skin contact with it.
Skin contact required
Because the new solid state Home button requires skin contact to register presses, this makes interacting with the Home button through non-capacitive gloves or other barriers a non-starter. It also means that you can no longer click the Home button with your fingernail, a practice that many of us with soiled hands have relied on in the past.
Yeah, that’s not going to work
This is, indeed, an annoyance, but I don’t think it’s as annoying as it sounds on paper. It’s why Apple has developed features like Hey Siri to control and interact with the iPhone without needing to touch it. That said, you might want to buy a pair of touch screen gloves just in case.
It feels…odd…at first
Initially, interacting with the new Home button feels…weird. It almost feels as if you’re clicking the entire bottom lip of the iPhone instead of just the Home button. This is something I heard repeatedly from individuals who went hands-on with the new device after the iPhone 7 keynote.
To be honest, after more than a week it still sort of feels that way, but that doesn’t make it bad, just different. It will take some getting used to for sure, but once you do get used to it, using the iPhone 7 Home button becomes second nature.
Other things to consider
Force Restarts and Recovery Mode changes
Because the new Home button is software-controlled, the method used for Force Restarts, and getting into Recovery Mode or DFU Mode had to change.
With older iPhones, pressing the Home button + Sleep/Wake button would allow you to Force Restart, etc. With the iPhone 7, you’ll need to utilize the Volume Down button instead of the Home button.
Yes, the Home button has changed and the change may feel odd at first, but after you get used to it, it’s much better. Going back to the mechanical Home button on my iPhone 6s now feels weird. I’ve simply come to the realization that the new Home button isn’t bad at all, it’s just the way that a Home button on an iPhone 7 is supposed to feel.
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