Physical Buttons vs Solid State Buttons in Cell Phones


Solid-state haptic buttons are nothing new. With the iPhone 7, Apple introduced a solid-state home button that emulated the sensation of a push button through haptic technology.  Interest in the technology has renewed due to Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo's recent announcement that the upcoming iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max would swap out clicky buttons for a solid-state on-off switch and volume control.

This major design overhaul promises solid user experience benefits. It may also enhance the lifespan of these new devices. With Apple embracing solid-state buttons, some industry experts predict Android will follow hot on its heels. To understand how this haptic button technology will enhance the next generation of smartphones, let's take a look at some of the advantages of haptic buttons


Physical Buttons vs Solid State Buttons: What Are the Key Differences?

With the advent of the smartphone, haptic button technology swiftly displaced mechanical phone button keypads. Every time you send a text message or punch a phone number on your smartphone, you engage with haptic feedback buttons. However, physical buttons have held on in some areas. Until recently, mechanical power buttons and volume buttons were standard for smartphones. However, that may change with the introduction of the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. 

Physical/Mechanical Buttons

Physical buttons transmit electrical signals to your phone, which compel certain actions. These buttons are typically plastic-coated and operate off a spring-loaded system. Traditional phone keypads generally took up half of a phone's surface area. While these buttons have, by and large, been replaced by digital keyboards, clicky buttons remain in use on the sides of most smartphones. These buttons provide reassuring feedback when clicked and give the user physical confirmation of their action. 


Solid State Buttons

Solid-state power and volume buttons are not actually buttons. These panels provide tactile feedback that imitates the sensations we normally associate with mechanical buttons. In other words, you get the same feel and functionality as a physical button. However, it's less likely to break down or fall apart. Solid-state panels integrate seamlessly with smartphone casing and eliminate small cracks through which dust, dirt, moisture, or other debris collect.

A common concern is that these buttons will stop working if your software glitches. While you can customize the response you receive through haptic buttons by tweaking the software, solid-state buttons remain operable even if your phone's software systems cease working. That's because solid-state buttons are part of your phone's firmware. That means they're still operable even if your cell phone is bricked. 


The Limitations of Traditional Buttons in Current Cell Phones

Mechanical button design poses a few disadvantages for newer smartphones. These low-tech components may prove unwieldy and inefficient. While you can reprogram haptic buttons for different tasks, traditional buttons are limited to a few core functions.

Mechanical buttons dominate your phone's surface. Not only do they take up precious real estate, but the use of moving parts makes these buttons liable to break. Springs and plastic components inevitably wear down over time. Also, the small cracks around the buttons' edges create openings through which moisture and debris can enter. Ultimately, physical buttons threaten your phone's health and longevity.

Why the Advantage Is With Solid-state Button Design

Apple's new solid-state buttons provide several key advantages over physical buttons. Aside from the sleeker design, they enhance device durability, consume less energy, and allow for a more immersive gameplay experience. Let's take an in-depth look at the areas in which solid-state buttons excel.


Haptic Feedback Ensures a More Immersive and Natural Experience

Haptic systems enhance smartphone gameplay by introducing tactile feedback to the game's visual and auditory elements. By engaging your sense of touch, haptic feedback lets games better mimic real-world conditions — making the gaming experience more life-like and consequently more satisfying for most gamers.

PC and console gamers are already accustomed to haptic feedback in their gameplay. Making the move to it with smartphone technology is only natural. Haptic feedback also enhances non-gaming functions. For example, when toggling the volume button up and down, haptic feedback makes it feel like you're manipulating an actual switch. This feedback is essential when you cannot view your smartphone device. 


Reduces Latency

Solid-state buttons provide superior feedback to users by reducing latency. Earlier forms of haptic technology, such as linear resonant actuators (LRA) and eccentric rotating mass (ERM) motors, suffered from signal delays. This inhibited the user experience and made haptics a poor substitute for mechanical phone buttons.

However, piezo driver produces near-instantaneous feedback replicating the crisp click of a physical button. This technology functions by sending electrical signals to a small crystal which quickly expands and contracts. 


Prevents Complications When Actual Buttons Start Breaking Down

Traditional volume buttons fall prey to wear and tear. These small components can snap or break apart, rendering your phone useless. Haptic technology eliminates these moving pieces, which in turn promotes smartphone longevity. Solid-state tactile buttons do not fall apart or break down like conventional physical buttons.


The Bottom Line: Solid-state Buttons Can Be the Future With the Right Technology


The function of haptic feedback in cell phones is to provide a superior user experience while eliminating bulky physical components that break down easily. Earlier iterations of haptic technology, such as LRA, provide low-definition feedback and you will feel the vibration through your whole hand. By contrast, piezo drivers provide high-definition localized feedback.

Solid-state piezo buttons are the following significant change in the smartphone industry. Unlike other haptic technology forms, they are perfect for smartphone integration. Learn more about how our piezo drivers can provide high-definition haptic feedback for your smartphone.

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