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Is it time to say goodbye to the power button?

By Adam Doud August 16, 2015, 10:00 am

So there’s this thing on most smartphones. It’s a small thing, but it’s still a thing. It’s the power button. It has been on smartphones for as long as there have been smartphones. But does it really have to be? That’s what we’re here to talk about today.

Right of the bat, you might be thinking, “It’s a power button. Who cares?” Well the thing is, I care. I care because I like optimizing the user experience, and I think we have moved – or are capable of moving – past the power button. It’s a relic of times past. Of course, an electronic device needs a power button. How else would you turn it on? And right off the bat, that’s a hard question to answer. How would you turn of a device without a power button? There are some other answers out there, but do they address the consumer expectations that a device will have a power button? I’m not so sure. But still, it’s worth exploring.

rear-buttons-g3

Multi-faceted

The power button actually serves several functions on a device. Power on, power off, screen on, screen of, and in some cases, screenshot, and reset. Many of these functions can be done using software – double tap to wake, screen time out to sleep, a reset app or system setting. Powering on is really the only holdup. In most cases, a minimal amount of power could be used to power a capacitive button that would allow you to turn on a phone. If the battery is dead, the phone won’t turn on anyway. No big loss there. Of course, when a phone is powered off, there’s an expectation that the battery won’t be used/needed. So turning off your phone at 50% battery and turning it on at 45% battery would not be cool, but it’s a small price to pay isn’t it?

The other problem with software-based solutions is how to get around software malfunctions requiring a hard reset. When a phone becomes a lag-heavy monster, one can always hold down the power button to bring up the reset option. Of course, ~that~ menu is software driven as well, so maybe that’s a point in my favor after all. If the software is going to lag with the power button, it’ll lag with a software solution as well.

Reliability you can rely on

In some cases, a power button is more of a reliable option than software though. One of the things about the Pre that I’ll always miss was the ability to perform a reset of the device by holding down the power key, and flipping the mute switch three times. Some of our readers just got a warm, fuzzy feeling, I know. But the fact remains that that shortcut only existed because of the power button.

But on the other hand, there could be a recessed “reset” button that could be pressed under extreme circumstances with a paper clip or SIM key. Sure, it’d be inconvenient, but that’s why it’d be reserved for extreme circumstances. Doing so would allow an OEM to lose one extra exterior part of a phone and one less “flaw” on the design.

htc-one-power-saver

Where is it?

Plus, let’s not forget how often one of our reviewers here will comment about the placement of the power key – either it’s on the side of the phone in the middle, or near the top, or on the opposite side than we’re used to, or it’s on the top of the phone. What if we didn’t even have to think of where it was, and a simple double-tap to wake could turn on our phone or tablet? It’d be a beautiful world, I tell you.

Or maybe it’d be an irritating world. Maybe consumers have been trained for too long to reach for a power button and would be frustrated looking for it. I think maybe we’re on our way to losing it for good. With many phones and tablets these days utilizing a feature like double-tap to wake, maybe the process of training consumers is under way. But, this is a feature that needs to be on every phone in production for this to really catch on.

In the future

So whether or not phones ever will lose their power buttons, the fact remains that they’re probably here to stay for now. But let’s take a moment to put on our design hats and build the next great smartphone, three years from now after every other phone adds double-tap to wake. Are you going to build in a power button? Or are you going to embrace the future and go boldly into that great unknown – that wide, unexplored expanse of no-power-button territory. Sound off below, and let’s see if we can figure this out.

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