The on / off button of the iPhone X shows the evolution of the smartphone

In today's digital age, it sometimes feels that hardware has lagged behind the software that drives our devices. Button of the month is a monthly look at what some of those buttons and switches look like on old and new devices, and it is meant to appreciate how we handle our devices on a physical, tactile level.


These days I think a lot about the on / off buttons. With modern devices – especially smartphones – we don't really use them as on / off buttons, because our phones are never really off. But that's a double-edged sword, because while they're not really "power" on our phones, we're pressing them more than ever: the "power" button of my iPhone X is now probably pressed dozens of times a day.

And it is that iPhone on / off button that I want to talk about specifically: the one on Apple & # 39; s most recent Face ID iPhones. When Apple killed the home button with the iPhone X, it also killed the hardware trigger for Siri – after all, you can't hold down a home button that doesn't exist.

Power buttons are a subtle reflection of trends in modern technology. When smartphones first came into existence, almost every phone had an on / off button on top of the device. As the screen sizes grew and that top edge became further and further away from the reasonable range of most thumbs, the on / off button migrated to the side. When screens became larger and the home buttons became extinct, the on / off button got built-in fingerprint sensors. And Apple is no different: the on / off button of the iPhone experiences the same trends.

So when Apple killed the home button, it also changed two things about the power button. First, the on / off button on the iPhone X is twice as large as previous models, so it's always easy to press. And it now activates Siri when pressed, instead of offering the shutdown prompt (the other main function of the iPhone's start button). Both shifts make sense logically. iPhones became larger, and making it easier to press the button is a natural extension. And as the last important button on the phone, having the Siri on / off button was essentially the only option (adding some kind of special Siri button anyway).

But the side effect is that the on / off button on the current iPhones really can't do the only thing it should do: turn the phone on and off (a separate command that keeps it pressed and the volume up button is needed to actually close) completely off the phone).

In the beginning it was a frustrating change, but the difference is positive, I think. I use Siri for simple tasks such as setting alarms and adding reminders to return Amazon packages much more than I did to turn off my phone. And by placing that function in the on / off button – which I almost always have a thumb on when I hold my phone, even more than the home button – it is even more accessible. In addition, the larger button is simply more fun to press, especially on brand new devices when the click is still nice and clear.


Some Android phones also follow this trend: the on / off button of the Note 10 does not turn the phone off and OnePlus phones can be adjusted to start Assistant with a short press.

Even if we start seeing phones that don't use buttons at all, some kind of hardware is still needed to turn on a device. And while smartphones keep getting more innovative and fresh designs, it's a safe bet that the on / off button will continue to change with them.