Friday, January 14, 2011

The iPhone Home Button is genius

After the release to developers of the iOS 4.3 beta, a bunch of people have noticed a new Multi-touch gesture support for the iPad. It says:
“This beta release contains a preview of new Multi-Touch gestures for iPad. You can use four or five fingers to pinch to the Home Screen; swipe up to reveal the multitasking bar; and swipe left or right between apps. We are providing this preview before releasing them to the public to understand how these gestures work with your apps.”
The first reaction from BGR has been to claim that the Home button will be removed from the iPad (and the iPhone), and it will be replaced by these new gestures.

I wrote about the Home button before, but I have thought about it a bit more lately. In particular, after CES, where I played with a bunch of tablets. Most of them have no buttons.

I watched people pick up the BlackBerry Playbook, play on an app, then look for the Home button. With their surprise, it is not there. They looked everywhere and finally they had to ask the RIM person at the show: "how do I go home?". "Simple" - he answered - "just swipe your finger from the outside of the tablet towards the inside and you are good to go". The reaction was "oohh, ok". That was it.

You can read the above as the consequence of the iPhone Home Button. People are used to it, they look for it, they can't find it, they are told how to do it, they learn, end of story.

I think you would be wrong.

Read the sentence above: "they are told how to do it". They do not know how to go home...

The Home Button is the Panic Button. The one you click when you are lost. The one that brings you home immediately. You can play with the iPad as much as you want, you can explore, you have no fear to get lost, because you can always go home. With one click, there, ready for you. A physical button.

The Home Button is what makes the iPhone a friend, versus an enemy. If you have watched your parents use a computer, you know what I mean. Your parents think about the computer as an enemy. They do not touch things they do not know, they do not explore, they are afraid they will never be back. If you give them an iPad, it is a friend. They click everywhere, who cares? One click and they are home.

I do not buy the idea that Steve Jobs did not want the Home Button, as some are implying today (hinting this is the reason why it will be removed). I think the Home Button was genius. And it still is.

The only reason I see for removing it is the addition of the camera in the iPad 2: finally, that will tell us where is up and where is down in the iPad (today, you can rotate it freely and you will never find out). The camera being in one specific position will screw up the positioning of the Home Button. If you put it on the right, you are favoring right-handed people (and I always suspected Jobs is lefty ;-) Therefore, if you remove it and make it virtual, the lefties will be happy.

Easy compromise: leave it there and add a multi-touch gesture. My mom will click on the Home Button and smile at her panic button. My daughter (kinda lefty) will use multi-touch to go home. Analysts will not be able to say "The Playbook does not need a Home Button, the iPhone does, therefore it is more advanced". Everybody will be happy. No Panic.

I do not think the Home Button will go away (although I have been wrong before ;-) It is genius.