The joy of physical buttons

22 May, 2023 - 2 min read

Why do I prefer to interact with physical buttons in certain physical products?

I prefer iPhones with a Home button compared to iPhone models that don't have a physical Home button, such as the iPhone X and newer models except for the iPhone SE.

Using physical buttons provides comfort and a unique sensation because I can feel the button's pressure without having to look at the screen, making it easier to unlock the screen.

EDC machine with touch screens and random PIN number layouts
EDC machine with touch screen and random PIN number layout

Another comparison I can give is when pressing the EDC button to enter a payment PIN at Alfamart.

With the advancement of technology, EDC machines with touch screens and random PIN number layouts are starting to emerge. However, using physical buttons for security reasons makes more sense.

Sometimes, when there are people waiting behind me or the cashier accidentally sees me entering my PIN, I can feel insecure. That's why some EDC machines are equipped with covers for the number buttons.

That should be enough, why use a touch screen?

Furthermore, having prominent buttons with a clear tactile feel makes it easier for me to feel and know the selected numbers without constantly looking at the screen.

This principle also applies to buttons on cameras, such as the Fujifilm X-T series. I can easily know the position of the settings I'm using at the time without constantly glancing at the LCD screen. The aperture ring on the lens, ISO dial, and shutter dial that I can physically access provide the best experience for me.

In this context, choosing physical buttons provides clarity, security, and optimal user satisfaction. I can directly interact with the buttons and feel the actions without relying on a touch screen or staring at the screen to find out the position of settings or numbers I choose.

Regarding the use of physical buttons or physical interaction in interface design, there are several relevant UX principles that can explain why physical buttons are still my preference. Here are two related UX principles:

1. Availability Heuristic

States that users are more likely to choose and use features or elements that are easily recognizable and accessible. In this case, the physical Home button on the iPhone offers high availability because it is physically located on the front of the device, easily reachable, and can be quickly used. Users can easily find the button and with a single press, return to the Home Screen. This helps users instantly recognize and access the feature without requiring complex interactions.

2. Task Matching

Design that matches the tasks performed by users will enhance efficiency and user satisfaction. The Home button on the iPhone offers a good match for user tasks involving navigation between screens and access to the Home Screen. By simply pressing the physical button, users can return to the Home Screen or quickly access multitasking features. Face recognition can also be a suitable alternative for some users, but in certain cases, such as when wearing a mask, using the physical Home button may be more efficient and user-friendly.

The preference for physical buttons in certain products stems from the unique benefits they offer in terms of comfort, security, and user satisfaction. Whether it's the familiar Home button on iPhones, the convenience of entering a PIN on a physical keypad, or the tactile feedback provided by camera buttons, physical interaction enhances the overall user experience.

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