Out with the new, in with the newer

Ten years ago Ap­ple in­tro­duced the sin­gle but­ton to smart­phones. But the new iphone X came with­out it

Financial Mail - - PATTERN RECOGNITION - @shap­shak

By drop­ping the home key the orig­i­nal iphone in­tro­duced to the world, Ap­ple has lived up to Steve Jobs’s fa­mous ex­hor­ta­tion: “If you don’t can­ni­balise your­self, some­one else will.”

What seems like a tiny de­sign change is ac­tu­ally a ma­jor shift in the way we in­ter­act with smart­phones.

When it was in­tro­duced in 2007, the iphone broke with con­ven­tion by ditch­ing all the keys we’d pre­vi­ously used on fea­ture phones. In­stead, the phone came with a large touch­screen and a sin­gle key — the home key.

This sim­pli­fied in­ter­face has been dom­i­nant in the smart­phone era, of­fer­ing a sim­ple way of nav­i­gat­ing, much like us­ing only a sin­gle left mouse click to get around what is ac­tu­ally a so­phis­ti­cated op­er­at­ing sys­tem. An­droid copied the in­ter­face, but added the ex­cel­lent back key and a key to see pre­vi­ously opened apps.

With the iphone 5 in 2012, Ap­ple’s home key evolved into a fin­ger­print reader. The com­pany later rein­vented the home key, giv­ing it a two-click op­tion that let you see other open apps and nav­i­gate be­tween them.

All ma­jor iphone up­dates, bar 3D Touch, were like a right mouse click, have been through soft­ware up­dates, mak­ing this hard­ware change all the more sig­nif­i­cant, and all the more rel­e­vant as Ap­ple’s re­sults this week fo­cused on sales of this new model.

With­out the home but­ton and its fin­ger­print reader, Ap­ple needed a new bio­met­ric mech­a­nism to un­lock the phone and ver­ify its user. It in­tro­duced fa­cial recog­ni­tion, us­ing cam­eras and sen­sors that are framed by a “notch” at the top of the screen — an­other de­sign shift that some An­droid phone mak­ers have shame­lessly copied.

In the place of the home but­ton came an up­ward swipe. It works at least 95% of the time, much like the pre­ced­ing fin­ger­print read­ers, and is a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion of the in­ter­face. After a few days I was adept at us­ing it. It seems in­tu­itive and easy to use.

The loss of the home but­ton on the iphone X hasn’t cre­ated as many head­lines as Ap­ple’s aban­don­ment of the head­phone jack did, but it is an in­fin­itely big­ger change. It has re­quired app mak­ers to adapt to the new bio­met­ric in­ter­face, and it has al­lowed bet­ter fea­tures — and not just an­i­mated emo­jis with your fa­cial ex­pres­sions.

An­droid man­u­fac­tur­ers have ar­guably found a bet­ter so­lu­tion: mov­ing the fin­ger­print reader to the back of the de­vice — a more nat­u­ral po­si­tion when hold­ing the phone.

In­no­va­tion in smart­phone tech­nol­ogy has plateaued in re­cent years. In­creases in screen size, the ad­di­tion of a sec­ond cam­era on the back, the re­duc­tion of the black strips around the screen (called bezels) and the wa­ter­proof­ing of phones are all mar­vels of en­gi­neer­ing, but not in­no­va­tion. You might in­clude re­mov­ing the home but­ton in this cat­e­gory too.

But it should all be seen for what it is: the end of a cy­cle of rapid growth, much like the dis­ap­pear­ing home but­ton is the end of an era. There’s an­other one com­ing.

Ap­ple’s sin­gle home key has dom­i­nated in the smart­phone era, of­fer­ing a sim­ple way of nav­i­gat­ing

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