I Hope the iPhone 15 Pro Inherits This Apple Watch Feature
Commentary: The rumored iPhone 15 Pro may get the Apple Watch Ultra's Action button. Here's why that's a big deal.
Lisa EadiciccoSenior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
But there's one potential update I'm particularly excited about: an Action button. Reports from Bloomberg and MacRumors suggest the new Pro models will inherit the Apple Watch Ultra's Action key, potentially making it easier to quickly access controls like the flashlight, accessibility settings and voice memos. Similar to last year's Dynamic Island, which is a mini secondary display for showing bits of information without leaving the home screen, an Action button could make multitasking on the iPhone easier.
The Action button's arrival on the iPhone 15 Pro could further distinguish Apple's premium phones from its standard models, making it easier to justify what will presumably be a high price. It would also provide new ways to customize your iPhone.
The Apple Watch Ultra's Action Button is actually useful
Using the Action button on the Apple Watch Ultra has convinced me that it deserves a place on the iPhone. When I tried the Apple Watch Ultra last year, tapping the Action button twice to start an outdoor walk was much more useful than I expected. It felt faster than tapping the complication on my watch face, opening the Workout app or asking Siri to do so. And on a smaller device like a smartwatch, eliminating even just one tap or swipe can go a long way.
That got me thinking about how an Action button could be helpful on the iPhone. Programming that button to start a timer, turn on a specific alarm before bed or call a certain contact could be very useful.
MacRumors claims to have discovered code in the iOS 17 beta that hints at what to expect from the iPhone 15 Pro's rumored Action button. Potential uses could include running a shortcut, turning on silent mode, launching the camera, using the flashlight, turning on certain accessibility features or activating a Focus mode. If this is true, the Action button could go a long way in saving a few taps and swipes to accomplish simple tasks.
The idea of Apple implementing new ways to use physical buttons on an iPhone is also notable, considering advancements in screen technology, cameras and sensors have been more prominent than new buttons in recent years. It would be noticeably different from Apple's usual approach, which typically involves eliminating keys -- as Apple did with the home button in 2017 -- rather than adding them.
It would separate the iPhone 15 Pro from the iPhone 15
From the Dynamic Island to a newer processor and a telephoto camera for closer zoomed shots, there are already plenty of features that distinguish the iPhone 14 Pro from the regular iPhone 14. But if the iPhone 15 gains the Dynamic Island, as Bloomberg indicates it will, that list will become shorter. The Action button could provide another new way for Apple to set its standard iPhone apart from its pro-level device.
If Apple does bring the Action button to the iPhone 15 Pro, it would indicate a change in how the company positions its top-of-the-line iPhone. For years, the iPhone Pro was aimed at camera-savvy shoppers that preferred having the option for a larger screen and more internal storage. But when Apple introduced the Dynamic Island on the iPhone 14 Pro, that started to change. The iPhone Pro wasn't just about photography anymore; it was also better suited for multitasking. Bringing the Action button to the iPhone 15 Pro would be another step in that direction.
You would be able to further personalize your iPhone
Personalization is a major theme in Apple's upcoming iOS 17 iPhone software update, as features like the new contact posters, custom stickers and interactive widgets prove. The Action button would provide yet another way to personalize your iPhone, signaling that Apple is tailoring the iPhone's hardware around personalization rather than just its software.
If the reports from Bloomberg and MacRumors are true, you'll be able to customize the Action button to your liking. Since the iPhone Pro is usually geared toward photographers, there's plenty of opportunity for Apple to expand those customization options in the future. What if Apple added shortcuts for specific features within the camera app, for example?
That type of functionality already exists to some degree on the iPhone. Apple introduced a feature called Back Tap in iOS 14 that makes it possible to perform certain tasks, like capturing a screenshot or turning on your flashlight, by double or triple tapping the back of the phone. While Back Tap can be helpful, an Action button could provide a quicker and more obvious way to launch certain shortcuts.
Other phone makers have also implemented similar features, so Apple wouldn't be first in this regard. Samsung's XCover6Pro, which is a rugged phone aimed at those who work in industrial environments rather than everyday users, has programmable buttons. Sony's Xperia 1V also has a standalone shutter button. But both devices are designed for specific niche audiences, such as those working in transportation or public safety as well as serious mobile photographers. It's rare to see customizable buttons on today's mainstream phones.
There's another way the Action button could potentially lead to more personalization in the iPhone Pro down the line. Perhaps the Action button could also become a vessel for Touch ID, similar to the the top key on the iPad Air and 10th-generation iPad. That would give iPhone Pro users more flexibility to choose how they want to authenticate payments and unlock their iPhones compared with non-Pro owners. But of course, this is all speculation. There's no indication that Apple has any plans to add such features to the iPhone Pro.
Until the Dynamic Island's arrival last year, the iPhone hadn't really meaningfully changed in terms of design and input methods since 2017, when Apple added Face ID and got rid of the home button. The Action button could be the extra something special the iPhone needs right now, especially as companies like Samsung and Google are investing in more dramatic design upgrades with their foldable phones.