Android phone makers need to leave the power button alone

power buttons on Android phones Android 12 vs Android 11

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Smartphones may be heading for a portless, buttonless future, but if there is one button that remains constant (so far), it is the humble on / off button. But what purpose it serves seems to be constantly changing. Being the last bastion of hardware control also means that the power button often has the task of serving dual function as a shortcut to multiple tasks.

This single button has been reused so often that it rarely performs the function for which it was intended.

Samsung’s standard implementation makes you search for Bixby, while on a Google Pixel you can control your smart home. Except, now you can not (more on that later). A OnePlus or a Motorola might follow in Google’s footsteps, but then you have phones from Poco that disappear and leave the on / off button whatever it is – a single-function power button. You know that things have come to a head when the on / off button in some cases does not even work as a – shock and horror – on / off button! See, no one can apparently agree on how exactly to use it, but someone has to put an end to this madness.

OnePlus Oxygen OS 11 Android 11 smarthome controls

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

One of my favorite additions to Android 11 was actually the ability to download smart home controls when you long press the power button. I’m a self-proclaimed smart-home decorator, and while voice assistants like Google Assistant are amazing, the ability to quickly adjust lights or turn on my air conditioner from the power button is hard to beat. Or well, that was it. Earlier this month, Google released Android 12 and completely removed the ability to add device controls to the power button. So we go back to the message shadow and a tile with quick access.

Read more: Android 12 – everything you need to know

One move breaks an important workflow that I have been using for the past year. But the problem extends beyond the Android 12 redesign and is symptomatic of a broader issue for Google’s approach to basic Android features. One of inconsistency and the need to enforce some standardization.

power buttons on top-down Android phones that display multiple phones

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

When I used the Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 3 for a second opinion review, even I had to do a Google search on how to restart the device, simply because the power button does not do what an on / off button shall. Yes, I know you can change the behavior, but as a reviewer, my job is to use the stock configuration because that’s what the average user wants the average user to experience. A first-time user of Samsung should not have to seek help because the power button produces a halfway useful search engine instead of the power controls they would expect.

Add to the power button if you need to, but do not remove basic functions

To be fair to the South Korean company, it has long pushed for a Bixby shortcut in the power button. In fact, it never used control for smart home devices activated by the power key to begin with. However, it leans further into my concerns with how each brand treats a basic usability feature as their own personal len.

Okay, I get it. Maybe Google has the data they need to know that users do not really care about smart home control as a shortcut. In that case, we might let the button be exactly what it is – an on / off button.

Galaxy Z Flip 3 how to turn off the phone

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Remove the extra features if you need to, or add them if you need to, but do not take the basic function of what the button should be. With the two biggest names in the Android area playing fast and loose with the most basic accessibility features, it’s incumbent on Google to set guidelines to ensure that smartphone providers follow up as well.

We have already seen too many variations of core functions, such as notification dropdowns, but we are far from the wild western days of early Android customization. Am I fooled? Probably. But it’s the little things that make a difference, and having a consistent design for how a key function like the power button works is the least you can expect from your smartphone.

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