Can the New iOS 4.3 Switching Gestures Obviate the Home Button?

A bunch of DF readers on Twitter are wondering whether the new four-finger gestures in today’s iOS 4.3 developer beta suggest that Apple might remove the Home button from future iOS hardware. I think not.

These gestures do mean that you don’t have to use the Home button. But there’s a serious discoverability problem with them. The physical Home button is impossible to miss. That it is the one and only button on the faces of these devices is a big part of why normal people are able to pick them up, start playing with them, and figure out how to get around with no help. How in the world would a normal person figure out or guess that they need to do a “five-finger pinch” to get back to the home screen?

I’m not saying these are bad gestures. But they’re like keyboard shortcuts on the Mac. For any command you expect normal people to actually find and use, there needs to be a visual way to find it. You can add a keyboard shortcut for expert users to memorize, but you can’t have only a keyboard shortcut. Same with these gestures. Oh, and the same goes for double-tapping the Home button to bring up the switching tray. Most people don’t even know about that. They don’t need to. They just tap once and switch between apps using the regular Home screen.

I don’t think the iOS Home button is going anywhere.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011