The most significant new thing in the iPhone 15 Pro this year isn’t its lighter titanium frame, new A17 Pro processor, or its camera system (although all are appreciated). 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.
The Action Button is perhaps the biggest hardware upgrade the iPhone line has received in years. It’s not a particularly advanced piece of technology — it’s literally just a button — but its programmability lets you use your iPhone in completely new ways.
Apple showcased the Action Button in its announcement of the iPhone 15 Pro, and it was highlighted in many reviews that followed (including our own). 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.
Pairing the Action Button with custom shortcuts unlocks its full potential
By default, the button acts as a direct replacement for the old mute switch: you use it to change the ringer settings on your phone. In the iPhone’s Settings app, you can change it to do a handful of other things, like turning on the flashlight, launching the camera, or toggling Do Not Disturb. But the real power of the Action Button is unlocked when you pair it with Apple’s programmable Shortcuts app. From there, you can do just about anything you might imagine on your phone in a quicker, more convenient way.
The Settings app will suggest some simple shortcuts to bind to the Action Button, but things get a lot more interesting when you tap into custom shortcuts. You can program the Action Button to display a menu of other shortcuts that you can then run from a tap on the screen. You can make it do different things depending on your location, time of day, or even device orientation. The limit is really your imagination — and your tolerance for programming in the Shortcuts app, which can be frustrating and tedious. (Fortunately, I have some tips for this below.)
My own setup for the Action Button involves a list of shortcuts that let me trigger a variety of actions, including the base actions of changing ringer settings, launching the flashlight, and launching the camera. 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 put together a great tutorial on how to create a complex 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 that you can use as inspiration (or outright copy).
There is still a lot Apple could do to make the Action Button even more powerful. Currently, it only supports launching actions via a long press. I’d love to be able to configure a short press and double press for specific tasks like I can with the power button on the other side of the phone. Programming tasks in Shortcuts requires a lot of patience and knowledge of how to do certain things; the app can just be a buggy mess a lot of the time. If you have too complex or long of a shortcut and try to launch it from the lock screen, there’s a chance it will time out and fail. (Pro tip: if you have access to a Mac, do most of the work of creating your shortcut there and then sync it with your iPhone over iCloud. Starting with a template that someone else created can also save a lot of time and hairpulling.)
Also, if you have an iPhone 15 Pro Max, the button can be a bit awkward to reach because it’s so high up on the left side of the phone. Even the regular 15 Pro could benefit from the button being moved to below the volume buttons; perhaps Apple will adjust this in future revisions.
The Action Button makes the iPhone 15 Pro feel much more like a computer than just another iterative smartphone
But even with those limitations, the Action Button has unlocked a whole world of abilities on my iPhone. I can easily customize or change the options in my shortcut whenever I want, making it more versatile than any other hardware feature on the phone. It’s faster, more reliable, and more convenient than launching a similar shortcut through a lock screen or homescreen widget or trying to configure 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.
Of all the new features over the iPhone’s 17-year existence that have changed how I use my phone every day, the Action Button ranks as highly as Face ID, Apple Pay, and the ability to record video. I now want this on every device I use (bring back the Bixby button, but make it properly programmable, Samsung) and am excited to see where it goes from here. Perhaps on the next iPad?
Source: The Verge