The iPhone Pro and the disappearing home button

Dave here. James Thomson, in a Twitter thread with Steve Troughton Smith, pondering the interface possibilities of the coming iPhone Pro (and I use that name as a shorthand for any and all phones Apple announces next month with a new hardware layout):

This raises an interesting question. If the home button no longer has dedicated real estate but is, instead a fungible, virtual spot, with the ability to be turned on and off, what happens if an app runs full screen? How will you exit the app?

In other words, if a game takes over the full screen, presumably the home button will not be there. What will the user do to force exit the app, to return to the home screen?

To be crystal clear, I don’t see this as a problem. I see this as an interesting puzzle. We don’t know that the home button will disappear, we don’t know that developers will be allowed to grab the full screen without saving room for the home button.

But it’s an interesting question, one that I am quite certain Apple already has a lovely solution for.

As Federico Viticci so eloquently put it:

the next few weeks are going to be so fun – we think we know what the next iPhone is going to be like, but we also know nothing of its software.


  • David Robeson

    I was idly wondering this yesterday. Maybe a hard-press in the general vicinity of the “home button”? Or, since that could be done by mistake, maybe a hard-press would briefly show the “button” the way a tap shows the controls in a video app, and then you tap or press it?

  • Squeezable edges? That seems to be the new In Thing. /whatevs

    • Alex Hon

      You mean like squeezing the edges of the mighty mouse?

    • Khürt L. Williams

      So what happens when the phone is held tightly?

      • No idea. I’ve been following HTC to see how it’s working out for everyone. I think another manufacturer has announced a squeezy-phone, and the Android tech press seems to be keen on it.

  • Herding_sheep

    I thought this seemed pretty obvious, especially with the rumors of the “function row.”

    Just like the status bar will appear to be part of the top “bezel,” the bottom function row will similarly be a “bezel” containing the home button and other various function buttons. In other words, the bezels will become software now, instead of hardware. Where we used to have fixed hardware that couldn’t change, we will now have software that can adapt, but still at the same time appear to be hardware-like.

    We know Apple likes symmetry. I can’t imagine the top bezel containing the status bar existing without a symmetrical area below as well, with an active display area being aligned in the center between the two.

    Think like the Touch Bar on MBP. They removed fixed hardware plastic in favor of software emulating hardware, that can adapt and change depending on the application. I imagine the same principle being applied to the iPhone.

    Hardware being replaced by touch software. Sound familiar? That was the whole pitch of the very first iPhone.

    • Khürt L. Williams

      What’s the end user benefit? Is that benefit worth the user interaction complexity?

      • Herding_sheep

        What complexity? If you know how to operate an iPhone, I can’t imagine how this will make it any different. Once again, this is just a different point along the same vector that the original iPhone began.

        The benefit is screen space less cramped with fixed nav controls. The status bar doesn’t need to rob precious screen space. The navbar controls can be reachable one handed by being closer to your thumb rather than at the top of the screen. Large screen space in a smaller form factor.

        I can think of many user benefits. Apple has been working on this solution for several years now. I’m sure they’ve put a lot of thought into it.

        • Mo

          And somewhere, on the way to Star Trek Las Vegas, Mike Okuda is cackling gleefully.

        • Khürt L. Williams

          I have seen many non-technical users struggle to understand how to tap and hold to wiggle icons to remove apps versus press and hold (force touch) to launch the app Quick Actions menu. In fact many did not know that “press and hold” with force touch was a feature. I have seen people not quite get that the iPhone 7 buttons isn’t a “real” button. They don’t know that “peek at links” or that they can press firmly on the left edge of the iPhone and swipe inward toward the center of the screen to open the app switcher.

          Apple disenfranchised geeks by making pocket computers that anyone could master. It seems we are trending back toward the time when people needed a geek to help them with their devices.

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  • I just don’t see it disappearing. The status bar may go black to avoid being distracting in full screen mode, but if they’re really doing this than the home button has gone to seem to be part of the chrome.

    That means… vibrancy, does Apple call it?… is fine. Disappearing is not.

  • komocode

    probably in control center

  • rick gregory

    We’ll see. I get Apple’s tendency to minimalist design and eliminating things but I’m wondering if this goes too far and makes a simple thing – the affordances provided by the home button – more complex than they need to be just to look awesome. But… we’ll know in a few weeks.

  • albebaub;es

    turn on accessibility on your phone. with the always on-screen button. that works pretty well.