The iPhone's Home Button

When I posted the link to Andrew Durdin's visual guide to the iPhone's home button, a number of people sent me messages that basically said "I don't see the problem".

Here's just one problem caused by overloading the iPhone's home button. Let's say I'm in Safari, and I want to launch another app. Most of the time, the app I want to use is on the first home screen. How do I get from Safari to the first home screen? In earlier versions of iOS, it used to be simple. To get to the first1 home screen, hit the home button.

That's not how it works anymore. If I want to go to the first home screen in iOS 4,2 it's more likely to play out like this:

In some cases, you'll have to hit home fewer times. In others,3 more.

You can't even resort to just hitting the home button blindly a bunch of times, because if you hit it too rapidly, the iPhone will interpret it as a double-tap. Besides, you don't know how often to hit it; if you hit it too often, you'll jump into the "Search iPhone" screen. For example, if you've previously launched another app from the first home screen,4 the whole process looks very similar to what I've shown above, but the same number of home button taps now brings you to the search screen:

It's a constant game of "are we there yet?" "No." "Are we there yet?" "No". "Are we there yet?" ...

This isn't a hypothetical example. This is something I do probably a dozen times a day, and every time, it causes me a tiny bit of frustration because I'm doing more work (and I'm being forced to think more) than I should be.

What's the Point of Remembering the Home Screens' State?

It's not clear to me why Apple does this at all. If I launch an app from the fifth home screen, is it highly likely that the next app I want to launch is also on that home screen? If I launch an app from inside a folder, is it highly likely that the next app I want to launch is also inside that folder? Probably not. So why not just send me to the first home screen when I hit home? That way, I always know where I end up when I hit "home".

Need something from the first home screen? Hit home. Need something from the second home screen? Hit home, swipe once. Third? Hit home, swipe twice. Want to search? Hit home, swipe once. You don't have to wait and see where the home button brings you; you can do it blindly. You know what the result of every interaction will be before you do it. Never a miscommunication. Your iPhone is predictable again.

  1. And only. ↩︎

  2. Which is what I want to do most of the time, because it contains the apps I start most often. ↩︎

  3. When you're in the task switcher's music control area. ↩︎

  4. And by the time you hit "home", you probably don't remember where you were the last time you used the iPhone's home screens. ↩︎

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Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.