On the iPhone 7 Home Button

How about a "real" button on the iPhone 7? 

How about a "real" button on the iPhone 7? 

I've had one of the newer MacBook Pro's for about 6-months now and those laptops have a new trackpad that is no longer a physical button. The trackpads on these laptops are just a non-moving slightly recessed piece of aluminum (or Al-U-MEN-E-UM as Jonny Ive likes so say). But these track pads have a bit of magic to them. When the MacBook Pro is powered on and you press down on the trackpad you would swear the trackpad moved down and "clicks" just like the old mechanical trackpads would do. I tried this with my kids and they all thought I was messing with them. But then I shut the MacBook Pro off and had them press the trackpad and sure enough it didn't move. This "fake click" is called haptic feedback. It is essentially a very short and sharp vibration that is triggered each time you press down on the trackpad to mimic the old mechanical action of the trackpad...and it is extremely convincing.

Fast forward to the iPhone 7. One of the changes to the iPhone this time around was that they changed the home button from the physical button that it has always been to just a slightly recessed pressure sensitive circular area...it is no longer a physical button. Apple did this for a couple of reasons. The main reason was so that they could make the phone more "waterproof." The other reason is that physical buttons wear out over time, so this is just one less thing that people need to worry about breaking on their iPhone. Believe it or not this is actually a "thing" outside of the U.S. So much so, in fact, that people in other countries would use some of Apple's accessibility features as a way to avoid pressing the home button on their iPhones as a way to ensure the button would not break.

So what's it like to actually use the new iPhone 7 now that Apple has killed the physical home button? Well...its different. If you handed someone the iPhone 7 and they had never heard of an iPhone or touched one before (maybe someone from Mars?) they might mistake the home button for just a very stiff non-responsive physical button, but I doubt it. The new iPhone 7 home button is no MacBook Pro trackpad. It is very obviously not a button anymore. That being said, if you put aside the initial negative reaction to the change there are some positives. For one, the response from pressing the home button is very crisp and is exactly the same every time. With some of my past iPhones the button would sometimes not feel the same every time I pressed it. I would certainly feel the difference between my iPhone and someone else's. It always gave me the impression that the button was flimsy or changing over time, even though through the 9 years of using various iPhones I have NEVER had a home button fail on me. I also really appreciate having an iPhone that is more waterproof. I live in Florida and it is not unheard of to get caught in a brief downpour that comes out of nowhere. If you are out on a walk when this happens with your iPhone it could mean the death of your $1000 phone. That is no longer a concern anymore.

The negative aspects of the button change are the following:

  • It doesn't feel like a button. The haptic feedback just isn't very convincing. Maybe Apple will be able to improve this over time but they aren't fooling anyone right now.
  • If you aren't holding your iPhone (its sitting on a table or being held in stand or car holder) the haptic feedback is not very strong so there isn't a lot of response when you press down on the home "button-like thing" (can we really still call this a button?)
  • When your iPhone is powered off or the operating system is not responding the home "button" doesn't work. In fact, in order to do a hard restart of your iPhone you now have to press the on/off button and the volume down button at the same time (this used to be the on/off button and the home button). Not a big deal, but if you don't know the new button combination and you need to restart your phone it can be a problem.

Overall, I really like the change. I like the firm and crisp response I get from having a non-physical button. But I realize this is not for everyone. I have more of an industrial taste with things...sleek and streamlined. So I like eliminating a mechanical item on my iPhone that has the potential to break or allow water into my device. The haptic response could definitely use some improvement, but it does the job and I suspect I and many other people will get used to it over time. I also think Apple will improve the haptic response feel (with some improvement simply from a software upgrade). In a few years people won't even remember a time when Apple used physical buttons on their iPhones. But make no mistake, this is big change from having a physical button. For many people this is going to seem like a downgrade. If you think you may be one of those people I highly suggest you try out an iPhone 7 in a store or play with a friend's phone before purchasing one yourself. The iPhone is a very personal device. As an iPhone user you will probably end up pressing that home "button" hundreds of times a day and if that becomes a negative experience for you it might be wise to delay switching to the new button design until Apple is able to improve the haptic feedback and make it feel more like a physical button. For the rest of you, enjoy the crisp non-mechanical response of the new button and the improved waterproof characteristics of your iPhone 7.

Apple Watch Notifications

One the things I was most excited about concerning the Apple Watch was notifications. However, I knew that setup of notifications was going to be key. Send too many notifications to you Apple Watch and it is simply going to drive you crazy and send too few and you will end up relying too much on your iPhone. I was actually hoping to post this article before the Apple Watch starting being delivered on April 24th, but after living with my Apple Watch for a week now I am realizing that having the right level of notifications is very much something that needs to be tailored to each individual. Here is what I have learned so far and what I find works best for me.

Haptic Engine and Sound on Apple Watch

I couldn't wait to get my Apple Watch so I could immediately put my iPhone on silent mode. During the work week I am in and out of meetings every day, so having some kind of loud audible notification can be quite distracting. So before I got my Apple Watch I would silence my phone and lay it face up on the table when I was in a meeting. But even that was distracting. It would vibrate when I received a call or text message and an app notification would light up my screen causing me and others in the meeting to ever so briefly notice my iPhone on the table. So when I received my Apple Watch I silenced not only my iPhone but the sound on the Apple Watch as well. For some reason, just relying on the haptic notification of the Apple Watch wasn't working all the time. There would be times that I would not notice the slight tap on my wrist. So I tuned up the haptic intensity to maximum and also turned on the prominent haptic option (which precedes some notifications with an additional haptic notification...a double notification if you will). But even then I would still miss some notifications on my Apple Watch. So I decided to temporarily turn on the sound notifications on my Apple Watch. Having the sound play at the same time as the haptic notification really helped. It trained my wrist to be a little more sensitive to the subtle nature of the haptic engine of the watch. It also helped get me through that first week of getting used to wearing a watch again. Part of my problem in feeling the haptic notification was that it felt so foreign to have a watch on my wrist I was a little bit numb to the haptic feedback. Turning the sound on really helped get me used to recognizing that subtle tap on the wrist. The notification sounds on the Apple Watch are also very subtle and pleasing. I get sound notification on my watch during meetings at work all the time and most of the time nobody else in the room even notices them. I have the sound turned down pretty low, but the sound effects Apple chose for these notifications is spot on. I think they must have learned from some of the obnoxious sound notifications that people setup on their iOS devices that having gentle and well design sounds on the Apple Watch was really important. They nailed it. I hope they don't ever allow custom notifications sounds on the Apple Watch .

Choosing What Notifications to Send to Apple Watch

When you first setup your new Apple Watch you are given the option to install every app from your iPhone that has been updated to support Apple Watch onto your Apple Watch. Do not do this! It may seem like a convenient thing to do, but it will cause you more grief than it is worth for several reasons:

  • You won't find all the "Apple Watch ready" apps useful (in fact most of them available on day one are quite awful)
  • Installing a lot of apps makes apps difficult to find and launch on the small screen
  • By default your notification settings on your phone for a given app are "mirrored" or setup the same way on your Apple Watch. You won't want all of these notifications pushed to your watch.

Start with just your basic notifications like Phone calls and text messages. Then think about notifications that you intend to immediately do something about once received. An email received from a VIP contact, a package delivery notification or a reminder from your task notification system. For me, the first app I installed and turned on Apple Watch notifications for after phone and messages was OmniFocus. I use OmniFocus as my Getting Things Done (GTD) task management system, so absolutely everything goes into OmniFocus. Having OmniFocus reminders pushed to my wrist has been a game changer for me. Now there is ZERO chance that I will miss a reminder notification, where before I wouldn't always hear the alert or feel the vibration from the phone in my pocket. This has allowed me to trust my task management system even more than before. Here is the very short list of notifications I have turned on for my Apple Watch:

  • Activity
  • Calendar
  • Messages
  • Phone
  • Dark Sky
  • Find My Friends
  • Kevo
  • OmniFocus
  • Simple
  • Starbucks

Adjusting Notifications on iPhone Post Apple Watch

Most people don't think to do this, but once you are receiving your truly critical notifications on your wrist you don't really need to be notified on your iPhone anymore. For me this was a great opportunity to remove distraction. So I went into Settings/Notifications on my iPhone and turned off both sound and vibration alerts for the apps I listed above that I am now receiving notifications on my Apple Watch for. For the Phone there isn't an option to turn off sound notifications so you just have to turn off vibration alerts and then use the mute switch on the side of the phone. You might think this is a little extreme. What if I miss a phone call? Extremely unlikely. I wear my watch from the moment I get up on the morning until I go to bed at night. When I take my watch off at night it is already past the time when "Do Not Disturb" automatically kicks in so I would't be getting notifications at that time anyway (unless is was a call from a VIP). At that point in the evening I am generally reading on one of my iOS devices (or have them very close by on the night stand) so I wouldn't miss the badge notification pop up telling me I just got a call or a text.

Overall the Apple Watch has done exactly what I wanted it to do in the area of notifications. It has freed me from being constantly tethered to my iPhone. I am now assured to get every single important notification sent directly to my wrist and more importantly NOT to my iPhone. On the weekends I am also able to leave my iPhone on my nightstand and not have to always carry it with me or have it in the same room to ensure I don't miss a phone call. This has been really nice too. I live in Florida and most of the time I'm wearing some very comfortable lightweight running shorts around the house, which is not the most comfortable type of shorts to be carrying around an iPhone 6 Plus in. The one thing I wish that Apple would add as a feature is the ability to automatically turn off all notifications on the iPhone if you have pushed notifications to the watch AND you are wearing your watch. I would love for my iPhone to start notifying me the second I take my Apple Watch off for all the notifications I have manually turned off. It seems like a pretty obvious feature so hopefully Apple adds it in the future.

In closing...I have heard a lot of complaints from reviewers about notifications driving them crazy. This is the reviewers fault and not the watch's. Take some time and think about the things you really need to be notified about and DO NOT allow notifications for anything else on your Apple Watch. Do that and your Apple Watch becomes the amazing piece useful technology you had hoped it would be.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.