Apple to replace iPhone home button with gestures

Mark Gurman has a major scoop about the next iPhone:

Apple Inc. plans to transform the way people use its next high-end iPhone byeliminatingthe concept of a home button andmakingother adjustmentsto a flagship device that’s becoming almost all screen, according to images of the new device viewed by Bloomberg News and people familiar with the gadget.

The home button is the key to the iPhone and the design hasn’t changed much since it launched in 2007. Currently, users click it to return to the starting app grid that greets them multiple times a day. They hold itdown to talk to theSiridigital assistant. Double click it and you get multitasking where different apps screens can be swiped through like a carousel.

Apple is preparing three new iPhones for debut next month. One of the models, a new high-enddevice, packsin enough changes to make it one of the biggestiPhone updates in the product’s decade-long history. With acrisper screen that takes up nearly the entire front, Apple has tested the complete removal of thehome button – even a digital one – in favor of newgesture controls for taskslike going to the main app grid and opening multitasking, according to the people and the images.

I don’t really dwell too much on iPhone rumours, but this one is an exception because one, it’s about a major change to the core user interaction model of iOS and the iPhone, and two, I happen to know this rumour happens to be accurate.

The removal of the home button and replacing it with what is effectively a gesture area is probably the single-biggest user interface change in iOS since the day it was released, and it also happens to be yet another step in the enduring quest Android and iOS are on to become more like webOS. Steven-Troughton-Smith (go support his work!) showed a number of mockups to give a better idea of what it’s going to look like.

Replacing the iconic home button with a gesture area is actually a pretty fundamental shift in the interaction model of iOS. It seems to indicate that Apple is confident enough that users are well-versed in touch interfaces enough to start “hiding” important, crucial interactions – like going back to the homescreen – behind gestures that are clearly less discoverable than that huge home button. Google did something similar – but far less consequential – by removing the “drawer” button in Android’s dock with a swipe-up gesture.

If this trend persists, it would seem Apple’s (and to a lesser extent, Google’s) engineers think that the touch paradigm is old and established enough to be more abstract, which opens up a whole slew of other possibilities. Up until now, undiscoverable gestures were generally used for more power-user oriented interactions, but with this next iPhone, they will be used for basic, cornerstone iOS interactions.


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