Do you prefer physical buttons over gestures?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| June 9, 2012


It looks like we’re still using physical buttons. I’m basing this off the fact that while Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich is geared towards on-screen controls, dropping the need for any physical buttons altogether, the major Android manufacturers are still putting physical buttons on their phones. Case in point: the Galaxy S III by Samsung. We can’t forget the halo device from HTC this year, either, with the One X. Which one is better? You decide. After you do, let’s talk about the lack of gestures on our phones, and how we’re moving in the wrong direction.

Strike that. We aren’t moving at all. We’re stuck in the same place we were last year, up until Google unveiled Android 4.0.

When the Mountain View-based company showcased the newest version of Android, there’s no doubt that one of the major takeaway features of the newest build was the fact that on-screen controls looked to be the standard moving forward. All of a sudden, that’s what people wanted. Larger displays and on-screen controls. The Galaxy Nexus by Samsung is indeed a sleek device, and it’s helped by the fact that there are no physical buttons on the front of the handset.

The Galaxy S III, though? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, I know some people out there find it absolutely stunning. Not me, though. I much prefer the look of the Galaxy Nexus. Even the One X’s frontal features are more attractive, because there’s no large, oddly shaped physical button right there on the front, taking up space and stealing the attention.

I want gestures. There, I said it. Earlier this year, I postulated that maybe 2012 would be the year that manufacturers and designers started going more for gestures. Started incorporating them right into the OS, effectively (gradually) negating the need for any physical buttons. But, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Unless you count Research In Motion, which is indeed using swipe gestures to make it easier to look at your notifications, and to keep in the conversation. Their gesture idea is fantastic, and I wish that those ideas were being implemented more in our smartphones (and tablets, mind you).

One concept designer by the name of Joos Van der Ree has gone the extra mile in conceptualizing what he believes the next version of iOS, iOS 6, should look like, and he uses a hefty number of gestures in his idea. The result? It’s fantastic. Probably one of the best concept ideas I’ve seen of the next version of iOS, and I wish that Apple would unveil something, even this exact idea, on stage in just a couple of days.

If you haven’t seen the video, the idea is that all of the things that we use in iOS every day get expanded and remastered, rebuilt and used in a brand new way. Badges on app icons are still there, but you simply pull down on the app icon and you get dynamic notifications of what’s going on in the application. Have three unread text messages? “Pull” on the app icon and you get to see what the notifications are, without having to dive into the app or swipe down to see Notification Center.

Some might say that the inclusion of Notification Center makes something like that unnecessary, but I disagree. It’s just another cool option, and sometimes you don’t want to see all the notifications your phone has, but just the ones for Facebook, email or text messaging.

I love what RIM is doing with gestures in BlackBerry 10, and I have to give them credit for trying something that the other manufacturers don’t seem to want to incorporate into their phones quite yet. I have no doubts that the physical button isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, now, which is unfortunate. It’s also a punch to Android 4.0’s proverbial face, as one of the key features of that build of Android has seemingly been tossed to the wayside by the largest Android supporters.

Where do you stand on physical buttons? Do you want them? Or, would you prefer to have a clean front to your device, and use on-screen options and gestures? Let me know in the comments below!

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