Apple is never afraid to drop features from their devices that they consider archaic. We’ve seen the company ditch all ports on the MacBooks in favor of USB-C, take chargers out of the box, and even ditch the headphone jack on the iPhone.
In retrospect, this seems like a mixed track record. Now Apple seems to be working on a way to shut down another important aspect of many devices: physical buttons.
What Apple is currently proposing is the creation of special surfaces on products that cannot be detected under normal conditions. These surfaces will be riddled with micro-perforations that will allow light to pass through them.
When physical input is required, the area is made visible through lighting and functions as an input device. To facilitate the latter, the technology is trying to implement sensors that register touch or pressure and respond to it in the same way as a physical button.
When the aforementioned sensors are not in use, they are turned off and the entire surface disappears seamlessly into the device. The rationale behind the design choice is the lack of “flexibility or adaptability” of physical input mechanisms, which can be uncomfortable when not in use.
The potential of such technology is virtually unlimited. From special notification buttons that display relevant information, to temporary elegant sliders on edges (reminiscent of the MacBook’s Touch Bar) to even something as radical as an all-glass iPhone design.
The only drawback is that this technology works with a limited number of materials such as glass, ceramics and plastic. Because of Apple’s philosophy regarding build quality, this hindrance somewhat limits the potential of the new technology.
Honestly, physical buttons have become somewhat outdated in recent years. Users feel more and more comfortable with fewer and fewer buttons. Apple is pushing the boundaries a bit – but that’s often the case.