One of the interesting evolutions in Apple’s operating systems has been the company’s use of gestures. On the Mac, it’s incorporated a growing number of trackpad gestures for desktop navigation and shortcuts. On iOS, its gestures have evolved over the years, from the pinch-to-zoom we all know so well to swipes for accessing the iPhone’s Control Center, notifications, and more.
But with all those swipes, there’s always been one anchor holding the iPhone together: the home button. No matter what you’d done or where you’d navigated, you could always tap the trusty home button to get back to your iPhone’s main screen. And that’s not to mention the shortcuts also employing this button, including accessing the app switcher and taking a screenshot.
With the new iPhone X, the home button is gone, replaced instead by a myriad of new gestures you have to learn. A number of early reviewers who got their hands on the phone—a club I’m not a part of this time around—are not necessarily big fans of this new gesture-filled world.
Nicole Nguyen, writing for BuzzFeed, had trouble with the new gestures right out of the box:
I opened the box, peeled off the screen sticker slowly, because I'm dramatic (and also it's the best part of this job), and powered up the phone for the first time. Then I accidentally pressed the flashlight shortcut on the lockscreen and swiped up, which took me to the setup page. Tried to swipe down from the top right corner, the new gesture for Control Center. Nada. Tried swiping down from anywhere. Nada again.
So I set up the phone with the flashlight on. And that was my first five minutes with the iPhone X.
CNN’s Heather Kelly also had issues. She called the gesture-based workaround for accessing Control Center the iPhone X’s “biggest inconvenience.”
“Living without the home button takes some adjustment,” Matt Steine wrote for CNET. “I kept reaching for the phantom button over the first few hours, feeling like I'd lost a thumb. Unlike phones such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, which adds a virtual home button to create a ‘press for home’ experience, the X remaps familiar gestures completely.”
Among its new gestures: You now need to swipe upward to get back to the home screen. You swipe downward from the upper-right corner to access Control Center. For Siri, you press and hold the phone’s side button. For the app switcher, you swipe up from the bottom and hold. And to turn off the iPhone X, you’ve got to press and hold the side button and the volume button simultaneously. (At least there’s still a volume button.)
We knew these changes were coming, but now that they’re here, some sound annoyingly finicky. Take, for example, the gesture for reachability, the feature that pulls the screen downward and makes it more friendly for one-handed use. You can invoke reachability by swiping downward on a small black “gesture bar” at the bottom of your iPhone X’s screen—a move that sounds simple but is still tricky to do. For some, there was confusion about this gesture: One reviewer was instead trying to swipe upward from the bottom of the screen and then toss the app window downward in order to summon reachability. Needless to say, this didn’t work very well.
While creativity and innovation are terrific, all this gesture “ingenuity” seems more like an unnecessary way to make sure the iPhone remains distinct from the Android platform, rather than the best way to solve the issue of not having a home button on board. Apple could have easily created a virtual home button at the bottom of the phone’s screen—but Android phones already do that. If this isn’t change purely for change’s sake, then it seems like the folks at Apple have watched Minority Report one too many times.
It’s entirely possible that with a few more weeks use, iPhone X owners will find the gestures second nature. It always takes some time to get used to change, and the iPhone X is a big step in the evolution of the product. If not, though, this could be one of the rare instances that Apple eventually backpedals on a major feature.