There are also many articles on physical buttons: knobs, home, and keyboards. Although they are of different categories, they are also constantly emphasizing one key point, that is, the inherent advantages of “physical design” in line with intuition and the sense of stability they bring about in operation are hard to compare with voice and touch screen interaction.
of course, the argument of eliminating physical keys has been around for a long time. We always imagine to integrate all the operation processes into the large and small screens. However, the reason why many buttons survive is not that we still have “usage habits”. The changes of the system and the dimensions of operation actually endow these keys with new values.
the main reason is obviously the overall size of the mobile phone. In the former era of function machines and small screen machines, our fingers could easily touch the top of the fuselage, so manufacturers used to put the power button in this position.
after that, the screen size of mobile phones has been increasing. Mobile phones that used to be able to operate with one hand now have to use both hands. It is obviously anti human design to put the frequently used buttons on the top, so the side keys are gradually transferred to both sides of the body.
this button is basically accompanied by the mobile phone trend of taking photos. The purpose is to enable users to capture photos more efficiently. Moreover, many models support the design of “two-stage buttons” such as half press focusing and long-time pressing for photos. This is also consistent with traditional cameras.
another thing to talk about is the navigation wheel. On BlackBerry 7230, 8700, Sony Ericsson w950i, W960 or p910c phones, you can see a scroll wheel for interface navigation on the side of the body, and it also supports pressing inward.
the reason for the design of the scroll wheel is that at that time, these full keyboard mobile phones had no direction keys, and the size was too small, and the resistance screen was not easy to click and slide. The roller perfectly solved the problem of moving up and down and determining, which could be regarded as a business machine of that era.
on the music mobile phones introduced by Marshall later, the scroll wheel was used to adjust the volume, which is also an alternative choice in the era of smart phones.
the mute key was once a standard configuration for business mobile phones, including the full keyboard of blackberry and Nokia, an independent mute key was designed at the top or side to facilitate users to quickly switch to silent state when the phone rings.
the decreasing number of side keys is related to the mobile phone’s pursuit of non opening design. Whether it’s the concept machine without holes that Meizu and vivo tried to make, or the pressure sensitive keys on waterfall screen mobile phones such as mate 30 and nex3, they are trying to get rid of the key structure.
at the same time, the degree of integration of modern mobile phones is becoming higher and higher. Even the physical buttons around the mobile phone are consciously integrated with the body in terms of material and color. While phones like Google pixel 3 and 4, which intentionally make the ground power button into other colors, are just decoration.
this kind of design oriented thinking has also gone to an extreme, giving birth to a very different form, such as the smartisan T1 mobile phone of hammer.
at that time, in order to give the mobile phone a balanced view, T1 specially designed an independent brightness adjustment key on the side of the mobile phone, which was just symmetrical with the volume key on the other side.
this design is obviously controversial. After all, brightness adjustment is not a function that needs to be operated frequently. It is really “luxurious” to open a key hole for it.
Samsung’s Bixby key is another example of side key failure. This independent voice key introduced since Galaxy S8 was specially placed close to the volume key. At first, it was intended to make users wake up quickly and directly to the Bixby voice service.
but this side key eventually caused dissatisfaction among users. The main reason is that the performance of Bixby itself is not so ideal, so that the probability of this button being idle is very high, which highlights the necessity of its non existence.
before that, many users hoped that Samsung could open the user-defined function of Bixby key, so that it could become a shutter key for taking pictures or a screenshot key, etc., which could be used by other functions, but Samsung did not give such a choice.
up to now, you can’t see the independent Bixby key on Samsung’s flagship machines such as note10, S20 and note20 in recent two years. For Samsung, removing this redundant design is probably a better choice than leaving it in disguise.
in fact, many side keys existing in the era of functional machines will be eliminated in smart machines. Most of them are from the consideration of the internal space of the fuselage. But more importantly, the touch screen also brings another simple, direct and efficient alternative.
there is no need to say much about the convenience of gesture operation. With the maturity of mobile phone system, now we can turn on a function quickly and off by means of pull-down control center, negative screen and other interfaces. The reason for designing a physical button is no longer sufficient. Those who use it are heavy users or pure geeks.
even if the camera and music control are often used, most systems default to putting them on the lock screen interface, and the operation efficiency is no worse than pressing a physical button.
a good design is not only the part we can see. Although the side keys such as shutter and scroll wheel have disappeared, the volume key and power key can continue to stay, and have not been replaced by touch screen and pressure sensitive design.
appoptix, a statistical agency, once made data statistics. They found that Android mobile phone users unlock their phones 65 times a day on average. If we remove 8 hours of sleep time, it means that we have to light up the screen every 15 minutes on average.
the same is true of the volume button. In daily video entertainment, call and other scenes, we always need to adjust the volume manually due to the influence of different environments around us. It can be said that these use scenarios give them the right to stay on the side of the phone.
especially now, the functions of these two buttons are no longer as simple as the name implies, but are gradually moving towards the design of “one key for multi-purpose”.
I remember that a few years ago, there was a “meter key” on Xiaomi’s mobile phone 1, and its positioning was the “multi-function key” on the mobile phone. It allows users to customize the short press operation in the settings, while long press is to call up the camera to take photos, which is actually to let the side key carry multiple composite functions.
this “one belt and more” design has been gradually applied to the lock screen key and volume key. So now the volume button is not only used to adjust the sound, but also can act as a shutter when taking pictures, or take screen shots together with the power button.
after the concept of turning on and off the machine has been weakened, the original power button on the mobile phone is now more used for “locking and unlocking” operations, and can also point to different operations according to long press, short press or double-click.
} after the smart phone moves to the full screen, the volume key and power button also integrate more complex operations. Photo from: the MAC observer
the iPhone’s screen lock button is a good example. Since the iPhone x moves towards full screen design, the functions of long pressing the home key to call Siri and double clicking home to call out applepay have been changed to the power button, so that the switch on and off operation needs to be accompanied by the volume key.
from this time on, the power button of the iPhone has become larger than before, and its length is almost twice as long, which is to make it easier for users to use mobile payment, voice assistant and other services.
in the latest version of Android 11, Google also integrates the control panel of smart home devices into the “long press operation” of the power button, so as to make the power button play a more important role.
it can be said that this feature of realizing the key compound function through the system, and giving the programmable and customized space for the entity key operation, will surely appear more and more on our mobile phones.
in the foreseeable future digital era, it may be more important to find such new interactive forms for buttons than to discuss their own existence value.