It appears one feature of the Apple Watch Ultra may be making its way to the iPhone Pro models this year. The mechanical mute switch is being replaced by a capacitive button, and a reliable source indicates that this may also function as a user-programmable iPhone 15 Action button.
It’s possible that the new volume rocker switch may also allow users to choose exactly how it works …
New capacitive buttons, with super-low energy mode
Earlier this month, new CAD drawings led our 3D render artist Ian Zelbo to conclude that the two iPhone 15 Pro models will replace the existing volume buttons and mute switch with new capacitive buttons.
New CAD drawings point to the iPhone 15 Pro volume control being a single rocker-style button, rather than two separate ones for up and down.
Additionally, the moving mute switch may be replaced by a button, as Apple makes a switch from mechanical controls to solid-state ones.
One issue with this change is that the iPhone is powered on, and reset, by button presses. Capacitive buttons require power to operate, so a leaker who got Dynamic Island details right says that Apple is addressing this through a new super-low energy mode. He shared these details on the MacRumors forum.
Currently, the Low Energy mode is capable of doing small tasks; like using Apple Pay when the phone is dead, or being able to use Bluetooth to connect to other iOS/Mac devices to constantly track your device with the Find My Network (started in iOS 15).
The new micro-processor that will ship in the 15 Pro models will not only manage those tasks, but will also be able to immediately sense capacitive button presses, holds, and even detect their own version of 3D Touch with the new volume up/down button, action (currently ringer switch) button, and power button, while the phone is dead or powered down.
He says Apple is still deciding whether or not to include haptic feedback when the phone is powered off. The hardware design is of course complete by this stage, but this would be a software switch, so the company can make this decision at any point before launch.
Similarly, the volume rocker may support faster change as you press harder, or slide-to-change functionality. This too would be software controlled, opening the possibility of users choosing how it works.
This new mode will also handle the features available in the current low-energy mode: Find My, Bluetooth/ultrawideband, and Apple Pay Express Transit. It will be more efficient, enabling these features to last for longer.
iPhone 15 Action button
The leaker also refers to the new mute button as an “action” button.
The new volume up/down button [and] action (currently ringer switch) button
This suggests that it will be user-programmable, like the Action button on the Apple Watch Ultra. Many people keep their iPhones muted at all times, relying on vibrations for alerts, so may wish to use the button for something else.
Fellow leaker ShrimpApplePro created the above render of the button, and Macworld‘s Jason Snell discusses this.
Apple could treat that button like the Apple Watch Ultra treats its button: as a trigger for a single, global shortcut that would be executed no matter where you were in the iPhone interface. Imagine mapping it to the Camera app or the flashlight feature, for instance.
He also raises the biggest complaint about the Action button on the Apple Watch Ultra: It can only do two things (single press and double-press), no matter which app you are using. Many have asked for it to be contextual, so that different functions can be assigned to it in different apps.
Snell raises the appealing possibility of being able to assign the button to a Shortcut, even if the option is buried within Accessibility settings.
It might be fun if apps had access to the button or if users could control what it did contextually. (I immediately began to imagine having it trigger a Shortcut, which could then decide what to do based on my current Focus status, the time of day, or some other variable.) But my best guess is that Apple will be conservative, at least at first, and have the new button mimic the ring/silent toggle–by default.
However, Apple has shown that it’s happy to let users experiment with different ways of interacting with Apple’s hardware and software via settings in the Accessibility section of the settings app. It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple would let users map that button to some other function via an Accessibility setting, with options like toggling the flashlight, entering a specific accessibility mode, launching an app, or running a shortcut. And if running a shortcut is an option, then the sky’s the limit.
If the button is indeed programmable, how would you use it? Please share your ideas in the comments.
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