Is Apple Killing Off The iPhone And iPad ‘Home’ Button?

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Well this ought to be interesting. Apple has made the pre-release code for the next version of its iOS software available for developers to tinker around with. This is the underlying software that will eventually end up on iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches—called iOS 4.3.

Scores of curious developers have finished scouring the code and discovered that several new multi-touch gestures will make their way to the iPad. We’re talking four- and five-finger gestures, too. Full on swiping, in other words. But why?

Apparently Apple’s considering getting rid of the solitary “Home” button found on the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch altogether, so new gestures are needed to replace the functions normally handled by the hardware button.

Boy Genius Report claims that, for the 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.”

Now making a button-less tablet isn’t a totally outrageous idea. The next-generation Android tablet that Google’s Andy Rubin showed off recently didn’t have any hardware buttons either. As long as tablets remain two-handed devices with plenty of screen real estate to add software buttons, people should be able to use them without too many problems.

However, BGR is also reporting that one of its sources at Apple claims that button-less iPhones may be on the way as well. The source even goes so far as to say that Apple employees have been testing button-less iPads and iPhones at Apple’s headquarters.

Does anyone see the potential problem with a button-less phone that relies on multi-finger gestures to handle common tasks like getting back to the Home Screen? It turns what’s often used as a one-handed device into something that would almost certainly have to be used with two hands.

If these rumors turn out to be true, let’s hope that Apple keeps at least some hardware buttons on the outside edges of the phone and that it figures out an elegant solution for one-handed use.

It’s very unlikely that Apple hasn’t at least considered these challenges, and the company’s got some of the best interface designers in the galaxy. So if anyone can pull off a button-less phone, it’s probably Apple.

All this information is still in the rumor stages, though, so let’s not read too far into anything. If Apple’s truly testing button-less iPhones and iPads with its employees, those employees could very well report back that life without buttons isn’t quite as great as it looks on paper.

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