New buttons in the touch screen era | hard philosophy

Physical shutter button!

As a proper niche player in the mobile phone market, Sony is one of the few manufacturers that still retains the physical shutter button. The newly released Xperia 1 III is no exception. This is also in line with Sony’s strategy of trying to bring professional-level imaging experience to mobile phones. .

▲ Picture from: Sony

However, looking at the entire mobile phone market, the status of physical buttons on mobile phones is not optimistic. With the increase of screens and the appearance of curved screens, the number of buttons rapidly decreases. The combination of volume buttons and lock screen buttons has become the absolute mainstream, and only the same A niche gaming phone will be equipped with a shoulder button.

Between one increase and one decrease, the function and value of buttons are constantly changing. For smartphones, it is not just a product of "maintaining habits."

The pursuit of a larger screen is not the only reason to eliminate buttons

One of the important characteristics of the development of smart phones is the ever-increasing screens, from feature phones to smart phones, to full screens and curved screens. As the screen-to-body ratio increases, the screens are also larger, along with these technological and industrial upgrades. , The physical buttons are gradually eliminated.

The most intuitive change is the change brought about by the full-screen trend. As Apple uses the COP packaging process on the iPhone X, while folding the screen at the frame, the screen display IC control is also placed under the folding screen, achieving a narrow While keeping the width of the screen frame, the Home button has also been removed.

▲ In order to achieve an ultra-narrow bottom bezel, Apple chose a packaging solution with a curved screen

The popularity of curved screens itself has also squeezed the living space of the buttons. Although most flagships on the market are gradually adopting micro-curved designs, the curved screens still occupy a certain side space, which also makes the buttons on the side of the phone more It's getting narrower and narrower.

But this is not the only reason why mobile phones have fewer and fewer buttons. The integration and non-porous design of mobile phones is also one of the influencing factors.

As a typical portable micro device, mobile phone manufacturers always pay attention to the utilization of the internal space of the mobile phone. When the battery life experience is higher, the button itself occupies a certain internal space, and the matching parts need to be left out. Small space.

Coupled with the consideration of dust prevention, integration has been put on the agenda, and it has also improved the overall beauty and texture of the phone a lot.

▲ The 3.5mm headphone jack has been “eliminated'' like the physical buttons

The buttons and interfaces have naturally become the common "eye thorns" of mobile phone manufacturers. In the past, the common playback buttons and shutter buttons of music phones were gradually abandoned.

In addition, the stability of the mobile phone buttons itself is also full of doubts. As early as when the iPhone used the physical Home button, many users worried about it being damaged, and switched to using the virtual Home button provided by Apple. Although Apple made adjustments and improvements afterwards, The stereotype has survived.

Even today in 2021, there is still a problem of loose buttons on some flagship phones. In addition, the side buttons are relatively narrow, and the feel is indeed not as good as before.

The independent voice assistant buttons newly added by manufacturers during the period are often related to the achievements of the voice service itself. Samsung once set up a separate bixby voice button on the mobile phone, but the intelligent voice assistant itself is not smart enough and other issues caused this independent The frequency of use of buttons is not high, and Samsung has also abandoned this design in the follow-up.

▲Bixby independent buttons are more like Samsung's design to promote smart assistants

After adopting a full-screen design on the iPhone, Apple uses a long press on the lock screen button to wake Siri. This is also a common outcome of the functions corresponding to the independent buttons of the voice assistant. The combination of the lock screen button and the volume button replaces many independent buttons.

While the larger screen increases the richness of content, it also increases the possibilities of the product. Virtualization of physical buttons has also become a common choice for manufacturers. Common adjustments such as screenshots, screen locks, and brightness and volume adjustments are all included in the notification bar.

▲Three-position switch of OnePlus mobile phone. Picture from: ITIGIC

Like Apple and OnePlus, which retain physical mute buttons or three-segment buttons, in addition to their own advantages in the use of physical buttons, this button has also become the embodiment of the product brand. Once adjusted, it is necessary to face the doubts of the original loyal users. , Apple’s modification of the lock screen sound is the most intuitive case.

New buttons in the touch era

While the importance of physical buttons has declined, many manufacturers also want to modify it. Hammer once set up flash capsule independent buttons, which can be woken up by pressing them, and thoughts can be recorded through voice recognition. Overall, it is still a good efficiency tool. Unfortunately, But the departure of the hammer ended it all.

▲ The voice search function was added later

Other manufacturers have begun to take a different approach, trying to create some non-existent "buttons." Apple has tried it on the iOS 14 system. Tap the back of the iPhone two or three times to achieve multiple functions such as screenshots and screen locks.

It achieves intuitive operations like physical buttons, relying on proficient muscle memory, and can complete operations without looking at the screen.

When Samsung promoted the bixby independent button, many users proposed to change it into an independent DIY button. The user defines the common functions by himself, which is convenient and practical. Now, Apple has realized this idea.

What’s more commendable is that the “tap on the back” function also supports the expansion of shortcut commands. This shows the strength of the iOS software ecology. The shortcut commands based on automation can call almost all functions in the iPhone, which is the strongest side button. Up.

This design is not uncommon in Apple products. The AirPods Pro earphone handle has an obvious recess at the end, and its function is similar to the physical buttons on wired earphones.

With pressure-sensitive technology, lightly press to play or pause, press twice to switch, long press to switch to transparent mode, and Apple has designed the clink sound effect to match it, and it is really like a physical button to use.

Compared with the common in-ear headphones in the industry using the touchpad to operate, the buttons that do not exist on the headphone handle are more intuitive and the risk of accidental touch is less. Another is that when the in-ear headphones click on the touchpad at the end of the earphone to switch music, there is no force. Good control will affect the wearing position of the headset or generate noise, so you need to adjust it from time to time.

The intuitive experience brought by the button is one of the main reasons why many people still miss it. Although its priority has been lowered due to various reasons such as the increase of the screen, manufacturers are still using the combination of software and hardware to integrate mobile phones. The general experience of reproducing physical buttons on various devices, even if many of them are not buttons.

This has also promoted the popularity of vibration motors to a certain extent. Professional terms such as rotor motors and linear motors have become one of the most concerned configuration content for digital enthusiasts. The fundamental reason is that it realizes the "Z" axis-like effect like buttons. Key experience.

▲The rescuer gaming mobile phone 2 Pro has a dual-vibration motor design

In the vibration motor experience, some Android phones have surpassed Apple in many details. Many gaming phone brands such as Lenovo and Black Shark have added the design of dual vibration motors. At the same time, they can often achieve a more delicate vibration feeling in conjunction with game content. .

This customized vibration function experience makes the e-sports gaming experience that values ​​instant feedback better, and naturally becomes more and more popular. In daily use, it also makes the functions on the binary plane such as adjusting the clock more intuitive, such as The physical knob is general.

Through software and hardware collaboration, manufacturers are still exploring the depth of buttons in human-computer interaction.

The physical buttons that have survived to the present depend on more than habit

The combination of volume key and lock screen button is the mainstream choice in the mobile phone market, but in fact, some manufacturers are trying to change it. Huawei Mate30 series has a design called "hidden side volume key", which replaces the original one through touch and vibration feedback. Physical volume button.

But in the end, Huawei still used the original physical button method. The reason is that the curvature of the Mate30 screen is relatively large and easy to accidentally touch. On the other hand, canceling the volume button is actually adjusting people's long-standing habits. It is not so easy to change. .

This is also the most common argument in the argument that touch interaction eliminates physical buttons, but is the physical button not completely eliminated just to maintain old habits? The answer is obviously no.

The larger screen and touch interaction bring more content and interaction possibilities, but at the same time it also makes the content and interaction more complicated. In contrast, the form of button one is simpler than one binding function. In smart phones Today, with more and more functions and more and more complex, the simplicity of physical buttons has become an advantage.

The iPhone’s Home button is a typical example. In the book " The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone ", it is mentioned that Jobs actually wanted to design two buttons on the iPhone, namely the return button and the Home button.

But in the end Jobs obeyed the designer’s suggestion to use only one Home button, and the designer’s reason was very simple. The addition of a return button would make the interaction more complicated. Pressing the Home button to return to the desktop is more concise and predictable. More trusted.

The same is true for Meizu's mback. Two independent interaction methods are set in the same button, which is simple and easy to use.

The buttons are simple enough and efficient, and the operation is quite intuitive, which makes it one of the best human-computer interaction methods to learn complex smart devices, and the learning cost is lower. Nintendo is also a leader in this way, a common game in the industry. The handle is laid out with buttons to let people get started more quickly.

The layout structure of the left slider and the right button makes people quickly understand that the left side is the control direction, and the right side is the command such as attack. Nintendo even set up a huge A button on the Game Cube handle, surrounded by several other small buttons. With it, it highlights the status of the A key as the main confirmation key, and also makes it easier to learn.

At the same time, as hardware, buttons have an advantage compared to the common virtual gestures and buttons on smart phones. Generally speaking, the priority of button interaction is the highest, and there will be no mutual exclusion of software interaction methods. There are still Android apps that do not comply with it. The specifications set by Google eventually lead to a situation where the interaction cannot be achieved.

In the foreseeable future, integration and non-porous technology will continue to be the main development trend of small precision devices such as smart phones. At the same time, there will be more and more devices with screens. They will be integrated into the environment and interact with people. Will still exist.

As a more intuitive and efficient way of human-computer interaction, it is simple enough to still have a place in the future, not to mention the form of the button itself and the depth of human-computer interaction is still an important field for manufacturers to explore.

The button is not entirely a backward product of maintaining habit.

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