In the last decade, smartphone design has had its fair share of ups and downs. iPhones had looked the same on the front for almost a decade, and a lot of Android phones lacked the oomph factor. But all of this changed within the last few years when a sudden push for the perfect bezel-less display brought moving parts, rotating segments, notches and hole-punches into the fray.
The trend brought about by bezel-less phones, while complicating some designs, has also led a movement for minimalist designs. This resulted in phones without any physical buttons making an appearance — namely, the rumoured R6 by Samsung, the APEX 2019 by Vivo and the Meizu Zero. An attempt similar to this was also made by HTC a year ago, but this was not well received, read ahead to find out if smartphone without buttons are viable.
Pros and cons of having a phone without buttons
While making a phone without buttons is a possibility with the current technology, using it as a daily-driver is an entirely different prospect. A phone without buttons, in reality, is an aggressive minimalist approach with more negatives than positives.
What does a phone without buttons bring to the table? This type of device utilises a design that focusses upon the reduction of moving parts in a structure. This leads to a reduction in the number of points of failure in a device’s frame and in some cases, allows a manufacturer to improve its ingress rating.
This push can also lead manufacturers to make decisions which take their devices to an entirely different level of minimalism. The removal of buttons made an avenue for Vivo and Meizu to remove ports from their devices as well, making them somewhat of an oddity to use as a daily driver.
Phones without buttons have two major questions to answer, and those would be about their reliability and their repairability.
Reliability: Buttons are a part of the phone with which you interact with almost every time you want to do something. You use them to turn the display on, change the volume, power down the device, take photos or videos, and also can force restart or cold boot.
The pressure-sensitive buttons that might replace physical ones in such a design will be majorly controlled by software. Now imagine if this software encounters a bug, in such a case you would be probably left with a bricked device.
Reliability of the buttons was a problem faced by HTC’s U12 Plus. The phone had pressure-sensitive buttons on its sides which did not move — similar to the new home button on iPhones. The haptic feedback was in no way a match for Apple’s Taptic Engine, and since there was no tactile response to a press, users were left wondering whether they were actually pressing something or not.
Repairability: With the current trend of glass sandwich phones, repairability of devices has reached an all-time low. In the case of the latest iPhone’s, a crack on the back glass requires the entire device to be replaced. How the functionality of such pressure sensing buttons will be affected if damaged is uncertain.
So, are smartphones without buttons viable? Probably not, at least for the foreseeable future because replicating the experience and function provided by the buttons on the sides of our phones is not an easy thing to do. However, at its current pace technology has made unprecedented advancements and will continue to do so; if someone figures it out, we might soon start seeing smartphones without buttons, and probably even just displays for phones.
What are your views on smartphones without buttons? Do you think they’re a possibility? Any other wild smartphone design ideas popping in your head? Let us know in the comments down below.
Also read: What is Android One and why should you use it?
Featured image by Tyler Lastovich