Why It's So Sad the iPhone's Mute Switch Might Soon Be Replaced

It's a masterpiece and the all the alternatives are not

  • The iPhone 15 may ditch the mute switch for an inferior haptic button.
  • The iPhone’s mute switch is a perfect mix of utility and discoverability.
  • Some things should just be left alone.
Side view of an iPhone showing the mute switch.

Math / Unsplash

The iPhone's current mute switch design may be on the way out, and that would be a huge mistake. 

The iPhone 15 may ship without the ringer mute switch that we have come to know, love, and rely upon. In its place will be a haptic button, a faux switch that merely senses the pressure and delivers feedback through a haptic bump. This is the same fate that befell the iPhone's iconic home button before it was removed entirely. But the mute switch is such a great piece of design, so perfect in function and feedback, that it should be kept around for as long as the iPhone exists. 

"The mute switch debate for the new iPhones is an example of technology for technology's sake. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. New technology isn't always the best feature, especially when the original feature works so well already," Technology expert Daivat Dholakia told Lifewire via email. 

War On Buttons

Apple seems set to continue its war on buttons with the upcoming iPhone 15. It will, say reports, come with a "pressing type button" instead of the current sliding switch. Presumably, this will require a long press to put the iPhone in and out of mute mode. The advantage for Apple is clear. A capacitive switch has no moving parts, takes up less room than a physical switch and its wiring, and is less susceptible to water ingress, helping to make the unit more waterproof. 

There is also a single benefit to the user: pocket fluff can sometimes build up in the existing mute switch and stop it from fully engaging in the off position. 

Someone putting a smart phone in the front pocket of their jeans.

Andranik Hakobyan / Getty Images

Apple likes to use solid-state capacitive and pressure-sensitive buttons and couple them with its TapTic Engine. This technology is behind not only late-era iPhone home buttons but also the Apple Watch's Digital Crown, all of Apple's Mac trackpads, and also the haptic tap we feel when long-pressing on an iPhone or Apple Watch's screen. The rumors say the iPhone's volume buttons will also get this treatment in the next version. 

And it's a great solution. It's more reliable than physical buttons and can even help with the user experience, letting you customize how hard the click feels to you, for example. But it won't work for the mute switch.

Perfect Design

The iPhone's ringer mute switch is a design masterpiece. It slides between two positions: off when towards the back of the phone and on when it's closer to the screen. You can tell if it is on or off with a glance (helped by a red-orange marker that shows only when the iPhone is muted), but you can also tell if it is on or off by feel when it's inside your pocket. If you're sitting in a theater as the curtain draws back, you can quickly check your iPhone is muted without removing it.

And because the switch has only one function, it is always a correct representation of the mute state of your iPhone. 

If Apple does remove it and swaps it for a regular push-button design, all of those advantages will be lost. And getting any of them back will require clunky workarounds. 

A vintage light switch.

Denny Müller / Unsplash

For example, let's take the glanceable status display built into every mute switch. You look at it, and you can see how it is set.

"Software-wise, designers could offer users a choice of mute switch indicators that alert them to such a significant change in the iPhone status. One solution is to add a mute icon on the always-on screen," Goran Luledzija, a software developer and the CEO of Localizely, told Lifewire via email.

But what if it's in your pocket?

Perhaps there will be coded haptic feedback. One buzz for mute, two buzzes for unmute, say. That would work, but if your phone is already muted, you'd have to unmute it and then re-mute it to find out. 

It's a little like smart lightbulbs, which need a complex Wi-Fi light switch stuck to the wall just to use them without a phone, when a regular old light switch is cheaper, simpler, communicates its state through position, and is pretty much 100% reliable for decades.

Based on past changes, it seems inevitable that Apple will replace the switch with a haptic button. I guess that we can add it to the list of superior features that went away–like the headphone jack.

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