It’s been a long time since we’ve seen physical buttons on our phones – since the dawn of touchscreens, the popularity of on-screen, gesture controlled navigation has been on the rise. But now, according to reports and new confirmed renders from 9to5Mac, it looks like it may finally be time to bid physical buttons goodbye on some Apple iPhone models, swapping out their iconic clicks and clacks for a more modern, solid-state taptic “buttons.”
For many of us, the thought of a buttonless iPhone induces both fear and anger. After all, it’s a little hard to deny how satisfying clicking that button and feeling the physical travel it provides can be – it’s become a sort of ‘rite of passage’. But is replacing these tactile sensations with a more modern, “haptic” alternative really such a bad thing? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both before saying goodbye to physical buttons for good.
On one hand, we have physical buttons. There’s no question that, when done correctly, these can provide a far greater sense of travel and feedback compared to that of haptic buttons — it’s a far more physical experience that many of us have probably grown accustomed to over the years. Many people rely on their mechanical “click” to quickly and easily know that they’ve inputted the right command.
However, there are a few drawbacks — primarily concerning wear and tear, as well as fanny packs. There’s no denying physical buttons can – theoretically – degrade over time, leaving them feeling “mushy” and unreliable. In a worst case scenario, they can fail outright — leaving you without a working volume rocker or power switch until you can send it off for repair.
Conversely, taptic buttons offer several advantages. Most immediately noticeable is their fantastic tactile feedback. Most taptic buttons imitate the sensation of pressing a physical button to the best of their ability — providing a great indicator that the command was successful. Additionally, since taptic buttons don’t rely on any moving parts, there is less chance of them breaking down from wear and tear, saving you from potential repair fees down the line.
It’s easy to take for granted how tactile feedback plays into our day-to-day uses of phones, but it can actually be quite helpful in a variety of situations. For instance, performing certain functions — such as adjusting the volume, checking your alert switch, or turning your phone off — can be done without taking your phone out of your pocket, backpack, or purse. Thanks to their more tactile feedback, taptic buttons make it easier to accomplish these tasks without the need to visually confirm every action.
What’s more, taptic buttons are also ideal for those with gloves — something Apple has taken into consideration with the inclusion of a single taptic button on the Apple Watch Ultra. Gloves with capacitive fingertips exist, and just like how physical buttons are much easier to use when you’re wearing gloves, so are the taptic ones — with no fear of it malfunctioning or not registering due to wet hands.
Of course, reality is never truly as simple as it appears. Compared to physical buttons, taptic buttons come with their own quirks and drawbacks — some of which are simply due to the technology being relatively new. For the most part however, these are the kind of inconveniences easily noticed by the trained eye. If taptic buttons were problematic enough to cause widespread concern, Apple surely wouldn’t be banking on them as their primary form of interface going forward.
All in all, it’s clear that there are advantages and drawbacks to both physical and taptic buttons. And while many of us will probably have some initial hesitation at seeing the physical buttons of years past go completely extinct from the iPhone, it appears that the “taptic age” is upon us. It’s now up to those of us who still remember the good old days to make sure that the taptics of the future are as good – if not better – than the physical buttons of the past.