‘Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.’
— Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs embraced simplicity. In fact, simplifying the complex is what he is known for just as much as his signature turtlenecks. So when Apple’s latest iPhone X was unveiled, why were we all shocked to discover the home button had been removed? The home button we grew to know, to love, to touch, tap and go to like second nature. How do we get home now?
It was only a matter of time, right?
With no home button or TouchID, the iPhone X uses facial recognition to unlock the device. But if you hadn’t read this, you wouldn’t know it until the phone was in your hands. We often talk about invisible technology as being the best kind of tech: the kind of thing that benefits users, making their lives easier without realising how hard it’s working in the background. The iPhone X’s use of facial recognition technology really is invisible – it not only allows for extra convenience and security (which will improve with future versions) when using your phone, it is practically hidden at a glance. To see it, users must tap the screen to wake up the device and swipe right at the bottom to reach the home screen. Even typing that sentence took longer than it does to unlock.
It’s sleek, it’s seamless, and it plays on our instinctual habits. It does of course raise some questions.
Considering the amount of effort – ideate, design, prototype, develop, test, iterate, test again – that goes into making the home button disappear, wouldn’t it be easier just to leave the home button alone? Especially when it’s served us well for so many versions of the iPhone, just like the ‘Start’ button has served Microsoft users well since Windows ‘95. In fact, the idea of clicking a ‘Home’ button for every website has been around since the early days of the WWW. Why get rid of a great thing? Why fix something that isn’t broken?
The answer: innovation.
Whether you agree or not, Apple has never been shy about mercilessly killing off conventional habits if they can be superseded. Last year, it was the headphone jack. This year, without the home button, the screen can finally go from edge to edge. If you can perform all necessary tasks via physical, human gestures and facial recognition technology, a physical home button actually feels unnecessary.
Familiar with CAPTCHA? That challenge-response test that asks you to prove that you’re not a robot and are a human, typically when completing an online form. It’s clunky, laborious and often makes a user abandon the form, even if they are in fact, human. With Google’s reCAPTCHA, instead of completing a test, users confirm they are human with just a single click.
Earlier this year, Google announced they have improved this technology even further by introducing invisible reCAPTCHA. Using behavioural analysis of the browser's interactions with the CAPTCHA to predict whether the user was a human or a robot before displaying the CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA provides spam protection, with a better user experience. This process makes it harder for robots while reducing friction for humans. Like Apple, Google is always looking for ways to simplify.
‘Out of clutter, find simplicity.’
— Albert Einstein
For us at Yump, the majority of companies and organisations we design for, removing buttons would be counter-intuitive. In the quest for more features and more advanced technology, our design team is bombarded with requests – from customers as much as client stakeholders – to add buttons. “Why can’t you just add a button to [insert functionality improvement]?” If we got $10 every time we added another button to satisfy a client’s or user’s request, we’d probably be millionaires, but at the price of a portfolio of cluttered, unusable interfaces.
So the next time you walk into a meeting with your design team, spare a thought for Steve Jobs and approach the problem with simplicity.
Ask, can we make this product more powerful, unique and usable with less buttons?
Is it possible for users to perform the same task, or reach the same goal, in less clicks?
Maybe less really is more. What do you think?