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More iOS 5 newness points to end of buttons

Ah, the death of the button. It's fast shaping up to be the hot trend of 2011. First Google made its Honeycomb Android software for tablets button-free, so that tablets like the Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 could do without any buttons besides a power switch and volume slider on the side. Then the BlackBerry PlayBook was launched, also mysteriously without any buttons on the front. Then leaks suggested that Google might be bringing the buttonless aesthetic to phones in the autumn.

But Apple, so far, has been stubbornly committed to its one well-known Home button - at least, until now. But it seems that, too, might be about to change. The latest version of Apple's iOS 5, which is on an extended tour of betaville before making its way into the real world, adds a slew of new gestures to let users control applications without a home button. A new touch-activated control panel lets users do a bunch of things that used to start with a home-button press, like go to the app screen or lock the screen rotation, just by pressing an icon on the touchscreen and going into a menu. It's hard to explain, but easy to see in this video:

Now, officially these are just 'accessibility tools' for those who find pressing the home button hard, and we're not suggesting that Apple are ready to ditch the home button as early as the iPhone 5. But it's clear they're exploring what a post-button world would look like, and how it would work. Which could be great or bad news, depending on how you feel about having a phone which looks even more like a faceless slab of glass and metal...

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