Apple is killing the iPhone’s silent switch


Steve Jobs next to a screen showing the silent switch on an early iPhone
Image Credits: Apple / YouTube

The ring/silent switch has been on the iPhone since the very first one was announced in 2007 by Steve Jobs, but now the writing is on the wall for the device’s last significant moving part. With its replacement by a haptic “action button,” it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the lineup is as smooth as a pebble from the river.

At today’s iPhone event, the no doubt long-contemplated change was announced with little fanfare, selling the new button as a customizable shortcut to anything the user wants. Launch the camera, or an assistance feature, or a particular app, etc.

Seems useful in some ways, especially for accessibility. But I mourn the loss of this switch the way I do every time they compromise the hardware design of Apple devices.

Removing TouchID is one such choice I still hold out hope they will reverse. The haptic touchpads in MacBooks is not something I enjoy compared to the actual depression of the originals, though it’s probably a net benefit repair-wise. The attempt to unify under a single port was unsuccessful in everything but driving dongle sales. They have tried and failed to kill the magnetic power connector.

Catch up on all of our Apple Event 2023 coverage here.

The removal of the ring/silent switch is logical in that, naturally, the way these devices are used has changed over the last 15 years. In 2007, the iPhone was a phone first and everything else second, because that’s what smartphones were at the time. The ring/silent switch was not an innovation but a necessity: If you were going to use this thing as your main phone, you needed to be able to put it on silent or vibrate quickly and easily so you didn’t blow up a meeting or theater.

Over time that necessity has lessened as we gradually stopped paying attention to ringtones and distinct notification sounds because audio cues are superfluous if you’re looking at your phone’s lockscreen every 30 seconds anyway. How many of us toggled the switch to “silent” when we took it out of the box and never touched it again? After all, the OS is smart enough to understand when you want to hear the sound of a video or song even if it’s technically in silent mode.

Image of the front of the iPhone 15 Pro and the back of the phone in the foreground
Image Credits: Darrell Etherington / TechCrunch

But the assurance of that unmoving switch was the draw. I didn’t have to remember whether I had put my phone in silent or not. There was a physical switch on the thing that guaranteed that unless I was playing a piece of media, it would not make a peep, forever. That assurance is gone now, though of course it will probably be just as easy to set it to silent and forget about it.

And I have always liked physical interfaces with mechanical certainty. You knew when you pressed the original home button because it actually went down! And you knew when you had successfully put your phone on silent or loud because you could feel the switch go from front to back. No mistakes possible . . . unless you brushed it on something and accidentally put the sound back on, which in all honesty I have done multiple times.

I want to be sad and mad about the loss of this, being as it is the last real moving part in the iPhone — the other buttons do technically depress but only trivially, and I suspect they won’t at all starting next year, once they work out the kinks in this test run. But to be honest I’m finding it hard, because unlike the loss of TouchID, this is a situation where a door is closing but a window is opening.

The new action button is still a physical interface, after all: an actual button and not yet another onscreen interface. I already know what I’m going to set it to, and after a month or two I will probably find it hard to go back when I, on occasion, boot up the old SE to feel its reassuring edges.

That is, I know what I’ll do with it once they come out with an iPhone that doesn’t have that ugly gap in the display. You’ll never break me, Apple. I’m not buying your “Dynamic Island” malarkey. Fix the hole!

Read more about Apple's iPhone 15 Event on TechCrunch

More TechCrunch

Ahead of the AI safety summit kicking off in Seoul, South Korea later this week, its co-host the United Kingdom is expanding its own efforts in the field. The AI…

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

9 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities