Home Your Tech Mobility End of the line for home button on iPad and iPhone?

Have we seen the last of the near-iconic home button on Apple's iPhone and iPad? The tip is that the 2011 models may drop the prominent button.

The latest rumour about the future of the iPad and iPhone has the home button disappearing from the devices.

The rumour apparently originated at the Boy Genius Report, which ascribed the information to "one of our Apple sources".

The idea is that new multitouch gestures will take users to the home screen or app switcher. iOS 4.3, seeded to developers this week, includes a four or five-finger pinch gesture to reach the home screen.

That doesn't sound too bad on an iPad, but four or five-finger gestures on an iPhone pretty much rule out one-handed operation. As it is, pressing the home button with the thumb of the hand holding an iPhone - eg, to activate Voice Control - is no big deal.

Another problem is that gestures (other than the basic tap and swipe) are far from obvious. But if you pick up a device that has a single button on the front, it's pretty clear that it has an important function.

Prototypes without buttons are apparently being tested - see page 2.

Still, BGR claims "Apple employees are already testing iPads and iPhones with no home buttons on the Apple campus" so hopefully either the usability issues will be sorted or the idea will be dropped before it goes into production - though BGR says it could be a feature of this year's models.

One advantage of dropping the front button is that it would allow a smaller bezel, so the overall height would be smaller for a given screen size.

The next-gen iPad has been tipped to arrive in early April, so it seems fairly safe to assume that such a major design decision has already been made. But with new iPhones traditionally launched midyear, the suitability of this change could still be under evaluation.

Apple previously came in for criticism when iOS 4.2.1 moved the iPad's rotation lock from the dedicated switch to provide consistency with the iPhone.

While most iPod models have sported a main button of one kind or another, the current touchscreen iPod nano does not.



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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences, a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies, and is a senior member of the Australian Computer Society.






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