The biggest new feature of the iPhone 15 Pro this year is not its lighter titanium frame, its new A17 Pro processor, or its camera system (although they are all appreciated). For me, it’s the Action Button: the little button above the volume keys that replaces the mute switch that had been on every iPhone since the first one.
The action button is perhaps the biggest hardware update the iPhone line has received in years. It’s not a particularly advanced piece of technology (it’s literally just a button), but its programmability allows you to use your iPhone in completely new ways.
Apple showed off the action button in its iPhone 15 Pro ad and it was highlighted in many subsequent reviews (including ours). But it wasn’t until users got their hands on the iPhone 15 Pro late last week that the action button’s potential was fully realized.
Pairing the action button with custom shortcuts unlocks its full potential
By default, the button acts as a direct replacement for the old mute switch: you use it to change the ringer settings on your phone. In the Settings app on your iPhone, you can toggle it to do other things, like turn on the flashlight, launch the camera, or toggle Do Not Disturb. But the true power of the action button is unlocked when you pair it with Apple’s Programmable Shortcuts app. From there, you can do almost anything you can imagine on your phone in a faster and more convenient way.
The Settings app will suggest some simple shortcuts to link to the action button, but things get a lot more interesting when you access custom shortcuts. You can program the action button to display a menu of other shortcuts that you can then execute with a touch on the screen. You can have it do different things depending on your location, time of day, or even the orientation of the device. In reality, the limit is your imagination and your tolerance for programming in the Shortcuts app, which can be frustrating and tedious. (Luckily, I have some tips for this below.)
My own settings for the action button include a list of shortcuts that allow me to trigger a variety of actions, including the basic actions of changing the ringer settings, starting the flashlight, and starting the camera. I can also add a new task to my Todoist list, create a calendar event in Fantastical, toggle rotation lock, create a quick note, identify a song with Shazam, resume the last playlist or podcast I was listening to, and run a variety of smart home controls, all without even having to go to my phone’s home screen.
I didn’t arrive alone: YouTuber Stephen Robles put together a great tutorial on how to create a complex shortcut with a menu for the action button, and I adapted it your template for my own needs. There are many other examples of creative ways to use the action button in X/Twitter, Threadsand Mastodon that you can use as inspiration (or direct copy).
There’s still a lot Apple could do to make the action button even more powerful. Currently, it only supports launching actions by long pressing. I would love to be able to set a short press and double press for specific tasks like I can with the power button on the other side of the phone. Scheduling tasks in Shortcuts requires a lot of patience and knowledge of how to do certain things; The app may be buggy most of the time. If you have a shortcut that is too complex or long and you try to launch it from the lock screen, there is a chance that it will time out and fail. (Pro tip: If you have access to a Mac, do most of the work of creating your shortcut there and then sync it to your iPhone via iCloud. Starting with a template that someone else created can also save you a lot of time and troubleshooting. hair. )
Also, if you have an iPhone 15 Pro Max, the button can be a little tricky to reach because it’s so high on the left side of the phone. Even the regular 15 Pro could benefit from moving the button below the volume buttons; Perhaps Apple will adjust this in future revisions.
The action button makes the iPhone 15 Pro feel much more like a computer than another iterative smartphone
But even with those limitations, the Action Button has unlocked a world of capabilities on my iPhone. I can easily customize or change my shortcut options whenever I want, making it more versatile than any other hardware feature on the phone. It’s faster, more reliable, and more convenient than launching a similar shortcut through a lock screen or home screen widget or trying to set the Back Tap option in accessibility options to do so. It makes the iPhone in my pocket feel much more like a powerful computer than a lesser version of a smartphone.
Of all the new features over the iPhone’s 17 years of existence that have changed the way I use my phone every day, the Action Button ranks as high as Face ID, Apple Pay, and the ability to record video. Now I want this on every device I use (bring back the Bixby button, but make it properly programmable, Samsung) and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. Maybe on the next iPad?