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The 5 Functions of the iPhone Home Button

May 5, 2014

You took the first step—buying technology. Now all you have to do is master it. We’re here to help, with tips and tricks you may have missed. If you know them already—well done, guru! If not—there’s no better time to start learning than right now.

Having a home button is a wonderful thing. It means you can never get lost. No matter how deeply you burrow into the iPhone software, no matter how far off track you find yourself, one push of the home button takes you back to the beginning. 

On the iPhone 5s, of course, the home button is also a fingerprint scanner — the first one anybody’s ever put on a cellphone that actually works.

But, as time goes on, Apple keeps saddling the Home button with more and more functions. It’s become Apple’s only way to provide shortcuts for common features; that’s what you get when you design a phone that only has one button. In iPhone Land, you can press the home button one, two, or three times for different functions — or even hold it down. Here’s the rundown.

Quick press: Wake up

Pressing the home button once wakes the phone if it’s in locked mode. That’s sometimes easier than finding the Sleep switch on the top edge. It gives you a quick glance at your missed calls and texts — or the time and date.

Momentary touch: Unlock (iPhone 5s)

If you’ve taught the iPhone 5s to recognize your fingerprint, then just resting your finger on the Home button is enough to unlock the phone, bypassing the password screen. In other words, you should get into the habit of pressing the Home button (to wake the phone) and then leaving your finger on it for about a half-second to unlock it. 

Long press: Siri (or voice control)

If you hold down the Home button for about 3 seconds, you make the phone ready for voice control. 

If you have an iPhone 4, you can use voice control to dial by speaking a name or a number, or use it to control music playback. If you have an iPhone 4s or later, you can do a thousand times more: You can command Siri, your virtual voice-controlled assistant. 

Two quick presses: Task switcher

If, once the phone is awake, you press the Home button twice quickly, the current image fades away — to reveal the new iOS 7 app switcher screen. This feature is the key to the iPhone’s multitasking feature.

What you see here are icons and currently open screens of the programs you’ve used most recently (older ones are to the right). Swipe horizontally to bring more apps into view; the Home screen is always at the far left.

Task switcher.

The point is that with a single tap (on either the icon or the screen miniature), you can jump right back into a program you had open, without waiting for it to start up, show its welcome screen, and so on — and without having to scroll through 11 Home screens trying to find the icon of a favorite app.

In short, the task switcher gives you a way to jump directly to another app, without a layover at the Home screen first.

Tip: On this screen, you can also quit a program by flicking its screen upward. In fact, you can quit several programs at once, using two or three fingers. Fun for the whole family!

This task switcher is the only visible element of the iPhone’s multitasking feature. Once you get used to it, that double-press of the Home button will become second nature—and your first choice for jumping among apps.

Three presses: VoiceOver, zoom, white on black…

In Settings → GeneralAccessibility, you can set up a triple-press of the Home button to turn one of several accessibility features on or off: Guided Access (aka kiosk mode), VoiceOver (the phone speaks whatever you touch), Invert Colors (white-on-black type, which is sometimes easier to see), Zoom (magnifies the screen), Switch Control (accommodates external gadgets like sip-and-puff straws), and AssistiveTouch (help for people who have trouble with physical switches). 

Excerpted with permission from David Pogue’s “iPhone: The Missing Manual,” Seventh Edition from O’Reilly Media.