I understand that Steve Jobs tried to minimize the number of physical buttons on iOS devices, and I am sympathetic with that idea. It is understandable that the power button, which has to be accessible before the OS is running, has to be physical, and it also makes sense that the volume or mute/rotation lock buttons, which require rapid access, are physical. But I cannot think of a reason why the home button is physical. It is also known as one of the most fragile parts in iOS devices.

  1. Is there anyone who can suggest a possibility of why the home button was designed to be physical rather than a touch icon or some gesture?

  2. Why is the home button located on the front surface whereas all the other physical buttons are located on the sides? I think this is the ugliest part of the design of iOS devices.

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  • There is probably no final answer to these questions... – nohillside Sep 23 '12 at 13:37
  • The "soft reset" needs both the power button and the home button. In addition I think the home button comes to the iPod gear... – user30397 Sep 23 '12 at 13:42
  • @R.M. That is kind of circular. Why then was the soft reset designed that way? Why couldn't it be, for example, pressing the power button alone for a long while (a few seconds)? What is iPod gear? – sawa Sep 23 '12 at 14:12
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    A physical button can be located by touch - a soft button requires you to look at the device. It also provides tactile feedback when you push it. And having it located on the front of the device is easy to navigate when holding the device one handed - it is also blatantly obvious to anyone picking up an iPhone for the first time - "this is what I push to make it do something" – Jason Sep 23 '12 at 22:07
  • @Jason You really should be answering the question instead of commenting. Conjecture is just as valid when you state your reasoning. – Jason Salaz Sep 24 '12 at 8:27

While no one can say for sure, unless Jony Ive joins Ask Different, I think there has been enough talked about in keynotes and other various appearances (D8, for example) that it can be reasons.

  1. (The Other) Jason's comment above hits the nail on the head. You feel the dip of the home button, and you know what it is. This also allows you to know which way is up. Because with an iPhone you'll feel a speaker grill, and on an iPod you won't feel anything.

  2. The Power button isn't the only hardware button, because the home button is used for things like putting the device into DFU mode. This is done even after the device leaves the OS, so it has hardware-level functionality too. I'm fairly certain that the home button is a hardware-level button, I'm pretty sure I've turned my phone on via it before. Not to mention using it to reset the device in the few situations where I've locked the device up. The home button is not software level button, the volume buttons and ringer switch are the only ones.

  3. Why would you want the home button on the sides of the device? Or top? That makes it completely impossible to meaningfully put to use, especially as frequently as we do.

Hold your iPhone normally, and then start to look at where your hand lies. My palm covers (the bottom) half of the right side, with my thumb at the top. There is a small gap, which happens to be where the SIM card slot is.

The top of phone: Headphone/headset port, noise-canceling auxiliary microphone, a small gap which would be a pain to push as frequently as we hit the home button, and the sleep button.

On the left of the device, all of my fingers cover most of the available room leading up to the volume buttons and ringer switch. And you also have to be considerate of those who are left-handed.

So what's left? A far corner of the device, or the back. The back would be an incredibly silly location, and having a small button in any corner would be massively inconvenient for someone.

The Home button is in a principle spot. It is dead center, large enough to wildly jab at and hit with very good accuracy, and ever present (well, duh). Good for either handedness, and even when it's docked. A quick push in the middle of the device resets your context, taking you to the home screen to move onto your next task.

There is no place on this phone that could better serve the home button's purpose. Period.

  • Thanks for the answer, but some comments: One important concept was that the gyroscope automatically detects which way is up and the screen adjust accordingly. You were supposed to be freed from thinking about the direction and switching manually. Why would you need to know which side is up (other than for connecting the connectors or accessing other physical buttons)? My understanding was that being allowed to forget about it was the whole point of incorporating a gyroscope. – sawa Sep 24 '12 at 8:49
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    @sawa I think a phone with two speakers, or an iPod with two cameras, for a truly vertically agnostic design, would just be silly. – Jason Salaz Sep 24 '12 at 8:56
  • I am not saying that it has to be vertically symmetric. To the extent that the direction matters for a camera or a speaker, you can tell that direction from the position of that part itself. I don't see any reason the direction has to be told additionally. – sawa Sep 24 '12 at 9:15

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