When it first came out, I assumed it was because Apple was prepping the masses to get used to using non-button buttons. This would make for a more seamless transition to under-screen fingerprint sensors that would work with haptic feedback. But it seems that Face ID is now the way of the future. So…this couldn’t be it.
Moving from the mechanical button to the haptic one wouldn’t have been a small feat. Thinking back to my days in the PC industry, this would have required a fair amount of investment in R&D. There would have been a lot of testing with prototypes and coordination with upcoming product teams to incorporate the new design. Then there’s the purchasing of new tooling and modifying the assembly lines etc.
Apple must’ve moved to the haptic home button due to warranty claims on the mechanical one. If even only half of one percent of the iPhones they sell develop problems with the mechanical home button that’s over one million iPhones per year that will need to be replaced. With a standard cost of $300 per unit that’s over $300 million to honor for warranty claims.
But if the mechanical button is so bad, why not replace it on everything else? I’d love to have the haptic version on my iPad Pro just because I like it so much. But Apple didn’t see fit to move from the mechanical. Why?
The inclusion of the haptic home button only on the iPhone 7 but not any other iPhone, the iPad, or iPod Touch says something about how high the warranty claim rate on the mechanical button is. The failure rate is not high enough to justify the cost of development on anything but the new iPhone. Apple ships out upwards of 220 million iPhones per year. That’s over five times the number of iPads they sell. If the failure rate of the mechanical home button was higher, perhaps we’d have haptic home buttons on the iPad as well. The lower the failure rate, the more volume you need to make up for the upfront fixed costs of development.
Even if it made financial sense to move the iPhone to the new style haptic home button I’m still surprised that Apple did it. This would have been a relatively large distraction for the engineering and manufacturing groups only to announce its successor, Face ID, a year later. I think the matter goes a little deeper.
When you encounter old iPhones out in the wild that have some kind of problem, what is it generally? Broken screens or home buttons. And these problems may afflict the iPhone disproportionately high in comparison to the iPad due to the mobile nature of the use. People don’t generally walk down concrete sidewalks while surfing the web on their iPad very often. And people can barely go to the bathroom without using their iPhone, whereas iPads get relegated to specific blocks of time where you want to unwind or get some work done.
I suspect moving the newest iPhones to the haptic home button had almost as much to do with Apple feeling it was the right thing to do. It must be kind of cool as an iPhone design engineer to see people using products you work on every day, everywhere you go. But conversely, it must be embarrassing for these guys to see people using the on-screen accessibility version of the home button because the real one died. The haptic home button solves this problem.
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