Ever since the iPhone was introduced in 2007, the phone’s home button has been an iconic fixture. Every time you used an iPhone, pressing it represented a tiny ritual lasting less than a second. It was a kind of digital doorman who opened the entry, as you wandered into the mobile internet. But today, as Apple introduced its latest lineup of new iPhones, something was missing from the: the iPhone home button, and its Touch ID sensor.
A year ago, when Apple introduced the iPhone X with a facial-recognition feature that unlocked the phone, it also unveiled the iPhone 8, with that familiar concave button that opened up the home screen. This year, for the first time in 11 years, the home button was absent from the festivities.
“There’s no home button,” Phil Schiller said proudly at Wednesday’s event unveiling new iPhones. “You look at it to unlock it… Your phone knows what you look like and your face becomes your password.”
For some, that’s a cold sendoff to a feature most iPhone owners have long been accustomed to and even enjoyed. While most iPhone X users like and even prefer the Face ID security feature to the older Touch ID unlocking mechanism, there have been some holdouts.
When the iPhone X was released, some early reviews complained that unlocking their phones with a fingerprint was easier and less buggy. Those complaints have grown less common as Apple tweaked iOS, but change can be hard, and some iPhone owners still prefer the old ways.
But it’s not just about unlocking the iPhone; to some users, the home button seemed the only possible interface. Did your app freeze? Hit the home button. Want to cycle through your open apps? Double-click that input mechanism. How do I talk to Siri? Hold down home. Sure, iPhone X swapped out screen gestures and lock button presses for these commands, but 11 years of home-pressing is a hard habit to break.
And some users are concerned about the privacy issues involved in using one’s face—the most personal of personal data—to open apps or authorize purchases, particularly at a time when user data is vulnerable to abuse. The issue even drew queries from members of Congress who wanted to hear how Apple was protecting its customers’ privacy.
For now, home-button aficionados can still purchase the iPhone 7 or iPhone 8. Apple has lowered the starting prices on those models to $449 and $599, respectively. But Apple also officially killed today the older iPhone 6 and iPhone SE models today (along with last year’s iPhone X). It’s only a matter of time before it eliminates the iPhone 7 and 8 generation, as well.
And when that happens, the home button will go the way of the floppy disk, the CD-ROM, the iPod’s click wheel, the headphone jack, and every other bit of useful tech that has stood in Apple’s path to simplicity and efficiency.