Why Apple shouldn’t get rid of the home button in the next iPhone

The home button represents instant response on our iPhones. Hit the button, and you expect a sleeping iPhone to display the lock screen. Hit the button on an active iPhone and you expect the first home screen or the search screen to appear. Double-click the home button, and active apps will appear at the bottom of the screen. Hold the home button, the expected voice command screen appears. Click the home and sleep button, and we expect a screenshot to be grabbed of what’s currently on the screen.

That’s a lot of functionality to lose if that button goes away, and yet there are a lot of functions on the iPhone that could benefit from the rapid response of a physical button. I expect Apple will replace the functionality in some way, but that tactile feedback of clicking a physical button says INSTANT.

Camera function – How many times have you gone to take an awesome shot with your iPhone, unlocked the screen, hunted the app down in some folder or another page, and then find that you had to wait for the CCD chip to warm up? By moving this to a function of a physical button, we can get speedy access to one of the phone’s major functions. While Apple is not positioning to become a major player in the camera market, the number of photos taken by iPhones on dedicated photo sites like Flickr should convince Apple that the lag in access to the camera app is a major frustration. Solving this problem that might make people reconsider the iPhone platform as a solid camera device. The repositioned flash for the iPhone 5 and the delay in production for the white iPhone 4 is proof they are taking photos more seriously. Tagged photos – bar codes, QR codes, and Microsoft tags – are another task that requires quick response. If it takes too long to take the phone out to snap the photo, it’s not worth the bother. This absolutely needs to be integrate into the camera app.

Calculator function – Exciting, right? But I have a feeling there is a subset of people that would love to have the calculator come up quickly, especially with graphing functions. Not for me, but another hint that keeping the home button and allowing some customization of its function is necessary.

Phone function and messaging – We can hang up the phone by use of the sleep button. We already can wake up the phone with the home or sleep button, so why not reassign the home button the way the double-click was in iOS 4? Click the home button once, and bring up an essential app of choice. If all you do is IM, text, or call, reassigning that button to one of these major messaging apps can turn your iPhone into a truly instant messaging machine. I expect that at some point the email, phone, texting, and IM apps will be merged into a combined messaging platform the way Facebook has with their chat and mail functions. Aggregation is key.

Location, location – I find myself playing with location based services more than anything these days, but only if they’re connected to social services. Having an aggregated location service like Footfeed at your finger tips, if combined with turn-by-turn GPS and merged into the Maps app (either by Google or Apple), would be a major app worth having at the home button. I’m hoping someone buys Waze and Footfeed, combines them, and blends them with Yelp and a fee other missing services to make one great social location service. If Apple tries to tie this only into their pathetic Ping service, it will be dead in the water.

Music to live by – Hey, remember how this phone is also meant to be a music player?   A lot of that functionality has been moved to the little click button headphones with mic that come with the iPhone. Not sure how much is left for the home button to do.

Status! – As social services are here to stay, and one of the most popular uses for mobile devices, a large number of people would love to update their statuses with the click of a button. Aggregating a number of services like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumbler together could make this even more powerful. Combining this with location updating, and you’ve covered a lot of social services with just one click.

There are a lot of reasons for Apple to keep that home button.  What’s yours?

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