Enhancements I'd Love to See for the Action Button

Whenever an iPhone comes with a new feature, it’s not always obvious ahead of time how useful it will turn out to be. In the case of my iPhone 15 Pro Max, the 5x camera has been great for one specific purpose, but my favorite feature by far is the Action button. To me, it’s one of those small things which makes a worthwhile difference in everyday use – though it has required me to get used to holding my iPhone ‘upside down’ …

The headline new feature of the iPhone 15 Pro Max was, of course, the 5x telephoto lens. It had taken Apple a long time to join the party in longer focal lengths, and the 5x lens in this year’s flagship was a significant boost over the 3x lens in its predecessor. The lens did impress me when I tried it for portrait photography. The natural bokeh is decent provided the background is relatively far away.

I was pretty sure before I got my phone that I’d be assigning the Action button to the camera, and that was indeed the case. The only slightly unexpected thing is that I’ve changed it from a still photo to video. The reason for that is that video is a tiny bit more likely to be ‘urgent.’ That is, if there’s something unexpected I don’t want to miss, then I’ve found I’m more likely to want a video clip than a still photo – this effect reinforced by the fact that I can always take a still frame-grab from a video.

One thing I particularly like is that one button does it all. Set to video, a long-press opens the Camera app with video mode selected, and a press of the same button then begins recording. This enables me to react very quickly, going from locked phone to shooting video in around three seconds. The same is true if you set it to still photos: Long-press to open, and press again to take the photo.

First, the delay before the button responds is quite long. I do of course understand that accidental activations mean Apple couldn’t have it activate instantly, and the company had to strike a balance between responsiveness and nuisance factor. All the same, I think there is scope to somewhat reduce the duration of the initial press-and-hold.

Second, for video, I’d love it if it was a single action, where the press-and-hold doesn’t just open the Camera app and select video mode, but also begins recording. Those two changes together could make it even better at capturing blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. Of course, the downside of that would be that if you are not needing to capture something instantly, then you’ll need to stop recording, frame, then start again. You’ll also need to delete the second or two of unwanted footage. For me, that’s a price worth paying for the immediacy, but the ideal would be to have this behavior configurable, so we can choose whether it’s one press or two.

I mean, in landscape mode there isn’t really a right way up, but I always instinctively turned my phone to the left, such that the camera module is at the top of the phone, rather than right, so that it’s at the bottom. From observation, most people appear to do the same. The issue with that for me is that the camera button is now operated with my left thumb. Decades of dedicated camera usage of course means that my right index finger is used to pressing the shutter. To fix this, I’ve now trained myself to rotate the camera to the right.