There Better Be a Good Reason for Killing the iPhone 15 Pro’s Volume Buttons
Like adding extra functionality.
The iPhone 15 Pro is expected to arrive later this year with significant changes to the exterior of Apple’s flagship product, including redesigned buttons. Early reports from supply chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggest Apple is switching to haptic buttons on the new iPhones. Further details from 9to5Mac have added more fuel to the fire: the traditional volume buttons and mute switch are not long for this world.
Apple’s had tremendous success moving from physical buttons and touchpads that click to solid-state ones that use vibrations to recreate the sensation of clicking, so whatever it does for the iPhone 15 Pro, there’s little reason to be concerned. But the layout of the iPhone’s buttons is downright sacred to some, and changing it shouldn’t come without some advantage.
From Buttons to a “Rocker”
According to 9to5Mac, the iPhone 15 Pros are moving from separate volume buttons to something more akin to a volume rocker, like Apple included on the first-generation iPhone and iPad. Because of the proposed placement of one or more Taptic Engines (Apple’s method for creating haptic feedback), the singular button could generate separate and distinct “clicks” but would be a single surface.
The mute switch, meanwhile, will stop being a switch entirely and instead work as a smaller button that can be pressed “harder” (Apple might call this a “force press”) to mute or unmute your iPhone. How well any of these buttons will hold up to accidental presses from a tight pair of pants, case, or running armband remains to be seen, but if the company’s solid-state home buttons are any indication, they should be just as sensitive.
Apple’s been a holdout; most flagship phones, like Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra, have wholly abandoned a standalone hardware switch for silencing your phone. Even OnePlus, long known for its alert slider, gave up the hardware switch on the OnePlus 10T, only to bring it back on the OnePlus 11 after users demanded it. Apple could be setting itself up for a similar knee-jerk reaction by changing how the volume button and mute switch work on the iPhone 15.
But change is also an opportunity to try something new. What if Apple leaned into the volume button and mute switch being different and actually added functionality? Asus’ Zenfone 9 feels like a great phone to take inspiration from. On the Zenfone 9, Asus included a touch-sensitive fingerprint reader that also acts as a swipeable surface for pulling down the notification tray, reloading websites, and more. Apple could let the surface of the new unified volume button work in the same way as another method for interacting with iOS on the iPhone 15 Pro, much like the digital crown is for watchOS on Apple Watches.
A jog dial-esque interaction would keep the screen free from your fingers and let you do more things on your iPhone one-handed, two big wins as iPhones get progressively larger. Or what if the the volume rocker can act as one big button, like for the camera app? These are all possible ideas, but one thing that might be a reason for concern: gloves. Haptic buttons, like the solid-state Touch ID button currently in the iPhone SE 3, do not work with gloves.
We won’t know how these new buttons will work until later this year, but considering Apple seems interested in reinterpreting fundamental aspects of the iPhone’s design, why not start with the controls we touch most often?