It's hard to admit when you've made a mistake, especially if it relates to something you're meant to be something of an expert in. But I must confess that despite having owned an iPhone 15 Pro Max since September 2023, I've only just cracked what I needed from its new Action button.
Apple brought a few interesting upgrades to its most recent Pro iPhone, including a luxurious but light titanium body and an upgraded 5x telephoto camera. The biggest change to the design however was the Action button, a whole new side key that could be used as a simple mute switch but could also do much more than that.
I've always appreciated Apple's continued use of the mute switch and likewise with OnePlus and its alert slider, as other brands try to make their phones' side rails as clean as possible. So having a mute switch I didn't have to use only for setting the iPhone's silent mode sounded even better, and set my imagination running wild.
Getting to set up the Action button was one of the things I looked forward to the most when the iPhone was on its way to my door. Setting up and customizing a new phone just the way I like it is one of the most satisfying parts of trying new phones. This anticipation only grew when I discovered that by using the Shortcuts app you could assign multiple functions to the Action button instead of just one.
I had dreams of being an Action button power user, able to perform a multitude of tasks with just a single press. But that was back in September. Now it's January, and I've apparently grown wiser with the passing of 2023 because I can see now that this was where it all went wrong.
I don't know exactly when I noticed it, but it took some time for me to realize my phone was quieter since I upgraded it. Notifications and messages weren't pinging, only buzzing, and videos I scrolled past on social media were oddly taciturn too. Eventually I realized that I kept leaving my iPhone was in silent mode, and my super-powered Action button was to blame.
It used to be muscle memory for me to toggle the mute switch on when leaving the house (so as not to disturb people on my commute or in the office), and turning mute off once I got home, so I’d still hear notifications if I was across the room from my phone. But now the switch is a button, and one that requires a press-and-hold to activate at that, it's a gesture that needs to be learned again. Or as it turned out, I hadn't learned at all.
I also found myself not using my other shortcuts that much. I still mostly controlled my Focus modes from the Control Center and my wind-down sleep timer Shortcut via an on-screen icon, and the other ones for my "Super Focus" mode, adding a task to TickTick or starting a voice recording I don't think I ever used once from the Action button menu I'd been so thrilled to set up.
Having come to this realization, I swapped my Action button binding back to just a mute switch. That was over a week ago, and I've not been tempted to go back.
Sometimes simpler is better
If there's a lesson to take from all this, I think it's that you are often better off setting up your phone for how you actually use it, not how you want to use it. And if you're shopping for a phone, that just because the device has a hot new feature means you're going to use it regularly, if at all.
I still think the Action button is a good and versatile addition to the iPhone. There are over two dozen possible uses that we found for the Action button, but a user may not find each use equally as handy or necessary to have quick access to. Get too ambitious for your particular needs, and you may find that the feature hinders more than it helps, as it did for me.
On top of that, I still feel that Apple has work to do to make the Action button a fully worthy replacement for the good old mute slider, and that the option to assign multiple press combinations would help build it out too. If Apple fails to do this with the iPhone 16 later this year, and maybe I'll be forced to fly out to Cupertino with a placard demanding Apple to bring back the mute slider.
Although if I found it too much effort to press a button to mute my phone, going all that way feels far too much of a stretch.
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Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.