Cameraphone button basics

I recently moved from a Blackberry Pearl 8100 to an iPhone 3G. Overall, it’s been a good transition. Sure, the Blackberry interface is usually much more efficient, but the iPhone won me over with its gorgeous screen and array of high quality apps.

I was also excited about the iPhone’s camera. The auto white balance on the Pearl 8100 was so bad that every photo looked like it was taken in a snowstorm. I had seen photos taken with the iPhone and was consistently impressed. I was excited.

Here are the steps I followed to take photos with my Pearl:

  1. Unlock the phone.
  2. Apply muscle memory and press the external camera button.
  3. Wait 1 second.

And here are the steps I follow to take photos with my iPhone:

  1. Press the home or sleep/wake button.
  2. Unlock the phone.
  3. If in an application, press the home button again. If not, skip to step 4.
  4. If not on first home screen, flick to first screen. Otherwise, skip to step 5.
  5. Apply Fitts’s Law and tap Camera.
  6. Wait 3 seconds.

The difference may seem small, but as someone who was used to taking 5 — 10 pictures a day, this suddenly felt like a lot of work.

I understand that the camera isn’t a key selling point of the iPhone. Its features page hardly lists the camera as a main feature, and instead lists it as Photos + Camera.

The first paragraph boldly states “iPhone is the most photo-friendly phone ever.” Or is it really that bold? Read that again. It’s the most photo-friendly phone ever, not the most photography-friendly phone ever. Oh those clever Apple copywriters.

Now I know the camera must have been part of the iPhone’s early design. If Apple was introducing a phone in 2007, it would have to have a camera. And to their credit they included a reasonable 2.0 megapixel camera that takes decent snapshots. Okay, so the inverse shutter still makes photographers everywhere laugh, but the auto-rotation feature is pretty handy.

If the iPhone 3G was also the most photography-friendly phone ever, it would have an external camera button. Here’s how it should work:

  1. Press the home or sleep/wake button.
  2. Unlock the phone.
  3. Press the external camera button to launch the Camera app. (The same button should take a photo when in the Camera app.)

But the truth is that it actually doesn’t need an additional button — because when the iPhone is unlocked the Home Button can be double-clicked to carry out a custom action. In Settings - General - Home Button, you can configure the Home Button to go to the Home screen, Phone Favorites or iPod. There’s no reason why Camera can’t be added to that list.

There is a valid argument against including additional options because as good designers know, more options make products more complex, and they can quickly add up. If Camera gets added as an additional option, why not Contacts or Calendar or any other app? At some point the designer needs to say no, and balance what is desired vs. what is needed.

In the case of the iPhone, I would argue that the additional option is needed because whether Apple wants to admit it or not, the iPhone is a cameraphone. And as we’ve seen in more mature markets, cameraphones increasingly become the owner’s primary camera. And primary cameras have external camera buttons.

This isn’t rocket science. These are cameraphone button basics.


  1. So. Much. Yes.

    When I had my iPhone jailbreaked I actually did this. Though it was buggy.

  2. cameraphone button basics!

  3. An iPhone tip that improved my pictures. Do not tap the shutter button but hold it and release to take the picture instead. No more shaky shots!

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