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Losing their touch: Smartphone home buttons are on the way out

Aneri Pattani, special to
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Future of human interfaces

The home button — a hallmark of smartphone design — isn't untouchable.

As soon as 2017, many smartphones will abandon the physical home button in favor of advanced touch technology, said Rick Bergman, CEO of touchscreen technology creator Synaptics.

Getting rid of the bezel area and home button will widen the screen, giving users more space and freedom. Some Android models have already moved the home button function to the touchscreen.

"It's a major inflection point in the industry, where you want to have that entire screen to have display," Bergman said. "You'll start to see phones with that type of technology in 2017."

San Jose, California-based Synaptics created the first touchpad adopted by Apple and Dell, and today its products are used in ASUS tablets and the new Google Pixel phone from Alphabet. It now develops touchscreens, biosensors and fingerprint scanners that are used in everyday products from smartphones and tablets to PCs.

The Pixel, which released in October, is a hybrid of standard home buttons and the future of touch technology. It features a physical fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone but an onscreen home button.

Apple iPhones have long held on to the home button, but its elimination of the headphone jack earlier this year prompted speculation that it could do the same with the button. Apple might even be preparing users for this transition, according to Recode. The iPhone 7 features a home button that uses new technology to give the impression of being pushed down even though it does not actually depress. But Apple's core philosophy has also showed resistance to moving too much to touch. Its new MacBook Pro has a new Touch Bar rather than an onscreen touch functionality now common on PCs.

LG is preparing for the buttonless future. In May the company announced it has developed technology that will hide a smartphone's home button and fingerprint sensor under glass. The elimination of an obvious sensor on the front of the phone will allow for a sleek design, LG said.

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While some say the home button is necessary for functions like restarting or taking screenshots, others, like Bergman, see touch technology as the path forward.

"If you think how often you use your smartphone or PC, you want the absolute best experience," he said. "I can't think of a scenario where you don't want that additive [touch] experience."

By Aneri Pattani, special to