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One button, two buttons, three buttons?

Posted by Chance on February 4, 2012

Coding Horror posted on the idea of one button for the iPhone.  The

iPhone 4S

author, Jeff Atwood, likes the idea of the one button for its simplicity, but hates that it has to be overloaded (having multiple functions) to achieve so much functionality.  This means that it has different behaviors based on what screen you are (home vs. inside an app), and how the user has to long-press, double press, triple press, etc… to get different behaviors.

My wife has an iPhone, and I have an Android.  I actually like the single button on the iPhone based on its simplicity, but I also like the 4 buttons that Android offers.  Although toddlers are not the target audience of a smartphone, my 3-year old can operate an iPhone much more easily than an Android phone.  I see Jeff’s point though, it becomes complicated when the button has to be used in different ways (i.e. hold, double click), and this could get even more complicated if the iPhone continues to gain additional capabilities (i.e. Siri).

I do like the Android way of doing things, although I would tweak it.

4 button Android phone

Of course I like the home button (which will be standard for smartphones for some time to come), but I love the “Back” button, and the “Search” button.  But I’m not a fan of the “Settings” button.  This button is seemingly powerful, but it takes getting used to.  When I started with Android, I kept forgetting about this button, whether on the home page, or in an app.  With an app, it’s even worse, because sometimes it does something, sometimes it doesn’t.  And the behavior changes based on what screen you are on in the app.  I believe that it is up to the app developer to make the options visible within the app itself.



Apparently Google agrees with me on this issue as well. The capacitive buttons will be replaced by software buttons. This time there will be a Home, Back (which will be on the left- makes complete sense), and a sort of Task Manager button.

What happened to the Menu button? On apps that offer the function, it will be represented by three vertical dots.  They don’t always appear in the same place, meaning you may need to hunt for them. This will likely cause confusion for a while, but as developers update their apps for ICS as they did for Honeycomb, getting to settings and other functions will hopefully be less fraught.

Android ICS phone with software buttons

Or, another way of putting it.

ICS/Google is moving away from using a menu button in favor of having a settings button within the apps UI. But legacy apps (apps not updated for ICS) will have an extra menu button pop up on the G-Nex so you can still get to the settings.

This is perfect.  In the event that there is not a settings dialog in the app itself, a software menu button will appear indicating that settings can be changed.

I’m not running ICS (which is Android 4.0), but I think I like this setup the best, at least theoretically. I’m not sure about the “Multitasking” button in lieu of the search button, but then again, it may make multitasking easier.


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