- Hollis Johnson/Business Insider
Apple has been plagued for years by rumors that using the iPhone home button increases the chances of it breaking. True or not, that rumor has caused millions of people, particularly in developing markets, to use an obscure accessibility feature called Assistive Touch to avoid pressing it.
The iPhone 7 may finally reverse this trend, since it swaps out the physical home button for a solid-state touchpad that Apple says is more durable.
Apple blogger John Gruber speculates that Apple made this change, which he doesn’t like, specifically because people were afraid of breaking the home button. He writes: “In countries around the world, particularly Asia (China, Korea, Singapore), and also Brazil, iPhone users don’t use their home buttons. Really.”
I became aware of this trend after seeing a Chinese tourist use assistive touch on the New York subway. As I wrote then:
[I]t’s an alternate input method buried in the accessibility settings. It’s designed for people who have troublepressing hard buttons or swiping in a particular way, but here was a guy with no apparent disability or hardware problems using it like a pro.
I had to ask why: He said something about shortcuts being more convenient.
I asked if he knew other people who used it: He said, “everyone?”
As I wrote in a follow-up:
The rumor is so widespread that some vendors in China tell users to use AssistiveTouch all the time.
As Wang Yijie writes on Quora: “Several years ago people began to complain about their home button being easily broken and it has somehow been a widely recognized truth, so even the home buttons are not that easy to be broken, they tend to use AssistiveTouch instead. When you buy an iPhone in China the salesman would automatically turn on this function while helping you to do the settings.”
When we called this a Chinese trend, however, we were deluged by comments and emails about how people do this around the world.
“This seems to be used by most people in Vietnam as well. Perhaps it’s use is universal across Asia,” commented tom1295.
“Same here in the Philippines,” commented Nixon.
“All Asians do it, not only the Chinese, but also Singaporeans, Koreans, and Japanese,” commented Miguel Mateo.
“Not only Asia, but here in Brazil it’s pretty usual for people to use Assistive Touch. The main reason is that the home button breaks relatively easy,” commented LeoB.
“That’s true. Also happens in Brazil,” Luiz Santana commented.
“In Brazil this is also fairly common between iPhone users,” commented diogonovaes. “I think Apple’s smartphones are so expensive here that most people hold on to them for as long as possible.”
“This is actually very common in Brazil, too, where iPhones are even more expensive than in China or Europe. Mostly teens are seen activating this accessibility feature – even if they don’t need it – to ‘save’ the home button and avoid costly repairs,” commented smenezesbr.
“People in this entire region treasure their iPhones and use them in this way so as to be as delicate with them as possible,” Ron Wilson added about South America. “The intensity of their use of the home button combined with their pride of ownership has led to this type of behavior becoming commonplace.”
“AssistiveTouch has been used all over Latin America, especially in Peru. I discovered AssistiveTouch very early while reading everything I could about iPhone; thousands of users like me began using it because we did not had the opportunity to replace it due to lack of post-sale technical support in this part of the world,” commented Walter Cabanillas.
If iPhone 7 changes the narrative, a lot of people might finally use the device as it was intended.