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.
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.