How Apple's action button is working to make it more powerful

How Apple's action button is working to make it more powerful

This year, the most significant new thing in the iPhone 15 Pro isn't its lighter titanium frame, new A17 Pro processor, or its camera system. For me, it's the action button, the little button above the volume keys that replaces the mute switch that had been on every iPhone since the very first one.

In its announcement of the iPhone 15 Pro, Apple highlighted the action button, and it was highlighted in many reviews that followed. But it wasn't until users got their hands on the iPhone 15 Pro late last week that the action button's potential was fully realized.

By default, the button is used to replace the old mute switch, which you use to change the ringer settings on your phone. On the iPhone's Settings app, you can add a few things like turning on the flashlight, launching the camera, or toggling Do Not Disturb. The action button's true power is unlocked when you pair it with Apple's programmable Shortcuts app. From there, you can do anything you imagine on your phone in a faster, more convenient way.

The Settings app suggests some simple shortcuts to bind to the action button, but things get more interesting when you tap into custom shortcuts. The Action Button can display a menu of other shortcuts that you can use from a tap on the screen. If you live in a place, time of day, or even device orientation, you can do various things with your device. The limit is really your imagination - and your tolerance for programming in the shortcuts app, which can be challenging and tedious.

My own setup for the Action Button entails a list of shortcuts that enable me to trigger a variety of actions, such as changing ringer settings, launching the flashlight, and launching the camera. In Fantastical, I can also add a new task to my Todoist list, create a calendar event in Fantastical, toggle rotation lock, create a quick note, identify a song with Shazam, resume the last playlist or podcast I was listening to, and run a variety of smart home controls, all without even going to the homescreen of my phone.

I didn't get here on my own: YouTuber Stephen Robles created a great tutorial on how to create a complicated shortcut with a menu for the action Button, and I adapted his template for my own needs. There are countless other examples of creative ways to use the action button on X / Twitter, Threads, and Mastodon as an inspiration.

Apple is still working to make the action button even more powerful, he said. Programming tasks in Shortcuts require patience and knowledge of how to do certain things; the app can just be a buggy mess a lot of the time. However, if you have an iPhone 15 Pro Max, the button can be a bit awkward to reach because it's so high on the left side of the phone. Even the regular 15 Pro could benefit from the button being moved to below the volume buttons, although Apple may adjust this in future revisions.

Even with those limitations, the action button on my iPhone has unlocked a whole range of abilities. My shortcut can be customized or changed at any time you want, making it more versatile than any other hardware feature on the phone. It's faster, more dependable, and more convenient than launching a similar shortcut through a lock screen or homescreen widget or trying to adjust the Back Tap setting in accessibility options to do it. It makes the iPhone in my pocket feel much more like the powerful computer it is than just another minor iteration on the smartphone.

The iPhone's 17-year-old innovation has changed how I use my phone every day, including the Touch Bar, Apple Pay, and the ability to record video. I now want this on every device I use and am excited to see where it goes from here.