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When I refer to buttons, I am referencing the three common buttons located on the button bezel of many Android smartphones (example below Samsung Galaxy S5): enter image description here

Android smartphones have been making a shift towards purely on-screen buttons, leaving the bottom bezel of the phone empty, for example Google's Pixel: enter image description here

Apple on the other has not followed suit, and continues to use a physical home button on their iPhones, even their most recent iPhone 7: enter image description here

Why is Android going on-screen, while Apple is still keeping physical? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both?

My current thinking is that Apple's iPhone has become iconic for having the home button, and that by removing it they move away from the core visual style of their previous phones. By continuing to have the home button, Apple phones can be even more distinguishable, even more so with Android removing physical buttons.

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For iOS - Yes, I agree with you about the single button being iconic. In addition, physical buttons have some additional advantages, just a few to mention as below:

  1. For many generations, it has become an obvious and essential part of the overall experience.
  2. A single button can provide so many functionalities. A fingerprint scanner, a home button, multitasking button & Siri. I find it very ingenious that a single button can handle so much.
  3. buttons can provide tactical feedback
  4. Can be used to directly initiate stuff, without invoking the screen.
  5. For some reason, the entire OS seems to be grown considering existence of a single button in that very position(Maybe, it's just me or seriously good experience)

For Android - Android is growing with the community. Though versions are being controlled by a single authority, each flavour we see has some vendor specific element to it. Personally, I am a fan of physical layout (optical) for many reasons. But, there are reasons why on screen buttons are getting used widely (At least all the google devices have them on screen)

  1. On screen means programmable: Now this would be something of great use in right hands but on the other hand, absolutely not.
  2. They can change (morph, be replaced) with context. This happens in nexus series with keyboard (back button rotates to indicate that it will hide the keyboard) but surely this behaviour can be extended more.
  3. Aesthetics: It's subjective but can be used.
  4. Space for hardware: I'm not pro at hardware but I'm sure that the same amount of space can be used to fit in something better (stereo speakers seems mainstream now)
  5. Contradictory to iOS, Android has a better rate of adaptability and there are brands who will implement their own analogies and use base. [For example: As a Samsung user "Double tap for quick camera" just works, and I find it very userful)

I really love this question and would love to learn about what the experts here at SE think about it :)

  • Also if something is wrong with the screen, for example it freezes up or there is a crack where that button would be, the button may become unusable. While a real physical button would be much harder to break. – DasBeasto Oct 6 '16 at 15:09

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