Revealed at the Apple September event, which also saw the launch of the Apple Watch 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, the folks at Cupertino detailed what this new button can do on its brace of flagship phones. Through the use of a press-and-hold gesture, along with haptic feedback and visual cues from the Dynamic Island, the Action button can be used to trigger a number of functions and apps.
Over time the capabilities of the Action button are likely to expand, notably with quick access to translation tools coming after the iPhone 15 family launches. But right now here are five of the most interesting things the Action button can do.
Snap a photo
One of the more obvious functions of the Action button is the ability to quickly capture a photo or video with a single press. Having a physical button to press should make it easier to snap a a shot that you've got perfectly composed, without the worry of the framing getting shifted when you reach for the virtual shutter button in the iOS camera app.
It works for the front-facing camera as well, and thus should make it a little easier to keep a firm grip on the iPhone 15 Pro while taking a selfie; I’m not one for taking photos of myself, but on the occasion I have, I sometimes find that reaching for the shutter button can cause my iPhone 13 Pro to wobble and feel like it may slip out of my hands. The Action button could remedy that.
Add in how the iPhone 15 Pro can automatically switch to a portrait mode when sensing a shot that would benefit from an artfully blurred background, and you’ve got a tool that neatly blends hardware and software features.
Toggle the flashlight
It may sound like a simple thing, but having a physical button for a phone flashlight – facilitated by the rear camera’s flash – could be very useful. That’s because anyone who’s tried to quickly activate the flashlight option on an iPhone can attest that it can be tricky to access via the lock screen, due to the need for a long press, and the chance that you could accidentally open a notification instead.
A dedicated hardware button for the flashlight function, complete with haptic feedback, promises to make quickly toggling the flashlight much easier; it could also avoid the issue of accidentally turning on the flashlight when tapping at the lock screen.
While the Action button isn’t fully customizable, it can be used to trigger functions set up in the Shortcuts app. As the name suggests, the Shortcuts app lets iPhone users create custom shortcuts to various apps. And with the iPhone 15 Pro’s Action button, those shortcuts can be triggered by pressing the physical button.
You’ll only be able to access one shortcut but this option will let you add a degree of customization to the Action button.
Quickly record voice memos
Sure to be handy when you’re in a hurry, the Action button can be used to quickly record snippets of audio using the Voice Memo app.
With the ability to start and stop such a memo via the Action button, this function could be created for someone who wants to have an audio reminder or note when walking through a busy area that isn't conducive to looking at and tapping on a phone screen.
Fire up Focus
The Action button can also be used to activate the Focus mode on iPhones, which can be used to shut off or limit notifications for a certain period of time to let people focus on work, relaxation or sleep.
While Focus mode isn’t hard to switch on – it's an option in the Command Center pull-down menu in iOS – doing it on the home or lock screen could lead people to become distracted by notifications or apps, dipping into doom-scrolling on X or Instagram. Being able to trigger it through just a press of the Action button without interacting with the iPhone's display could make it easier to actually focus on Focus mode.
Action button limitations
As interesting an addition of the Action button is, it does have limitations. Namely, it can only be used to trigger one action at a time; there’s no way to use a combination of presses and taps to serve up different actions, say, tapping twice to open the camera app or a long press for switching on Focus mode.
I hope Apple does open up the Action button to be more configurable with subsequent software updates. But given how Apple likes to keep tight control over iPhone customization, that may be wishful thinking.
Nevertheless, the Action button is more capable than the alert slider it replaces. And hopefully, we’ll see it added to the standard and Plus iPhones next year when the rumored iPhone 16 range arrives.
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