Ask iPhone and OnePlus buyers about their favorite design touches and there’s a real chance they’ll point to the mute switch or slider on the side. And for good reason — it’s an easy way to hush your phone in a hurry when you’re at work or otherwise don’t want to annoy others with notification pings. You don’t have to wade through menus to find a silent mode while others hurl disapproving glares in your direction.
But why hasn’t there been any substantial effort to copy the mute switch? It’s not quite as simple as it looks, unfortunately, as there are a few very practical complications. With that said, we’d argue that companies should try regardless when the perks could easily outweigh the drawbacks.
Here’s why others haven’t copied the mute switch…
There’s one immediate reason why phone makers might refrain from copying the mute switch: it requires effort companies aren’t always willing to make. Android doesn’t have a standardized approach to these kinds of switches, leaving companies to design both the switch itself and the software that makes it work. Even if it’s not a Herculean task, it might consume valuable time a brand would rather spend elsewhere during a tightly packed phone development cycle.
With that said, brands might run into legal hurdles even if they’re enamored with the idea of a mute switch. Apple, OnePlus, and other companies have frequently design patents and trade dress claims they’re determined to protect in court. A rival that mimics a switch too closely could risk a lawsuit, a trade ban, or both. It may well be easier to skip the feature altogether than design around patents or strike licensing deals.
And yes, there’s the possibility that a mute switch just isn’t as high a priority as it once was. Most people don’t make a lot of calls, according to our polling. While you certainly have more reasons to mute your phone besides calling, that was one of the main reasons these switches exist in the first place. Apple put the feature on the original iPhone in 2007, when apps and the mobile web still took backseats to voice chats, and a lot has changed over the past 14 years.
…But here’s why they should do it anyway
As many reasons as there may be for companies to avoid duping the mute switch, that doesn’t mean they’re right. If anything, we’d like to see more phone makers implementing this hardware control, even if they have to find alternatives that won’t lead to court battles.
Simply speaking, it’s a pain to silence your phone’s alerts through software. You’ll usually have to unlock your phone and open a control panel. That’s fine for the occasional preference change, but it can be a hassle if you flip back and forth on a frequent basis. For that matter, there’s a good chance you’re in a rush. You’ve probably had a moment at work, school, or even in bed when you scrambled to quiet your phone out of embarrassment — wading through the on-screen interface makes those moments all the more awkward. Granted, Android does make this switch a little easier, but it’s still a process compared to flipping a simple switch.
A hardware mute switch avoids all those headaches. If your phone starts ringing or a notification goes off, you can deal with it almost instantaneously. For that matter, quick access might prompt a change in habits. You might be more likely to turn sound on (say, to be sure you get an important text message) if you can just as easily turn it off later. Why worry about your phone’s noises when you have almost instinctual control over them?
Let’s be realistic: you probably won’t see mute switches become ubiquitous any time soon. You’ll still have to shop Apple or OnePlus devices for now. There’s a definite use case for them, though, and it won’t be surprising if one or more prominent manufacturers find some way to implement the functionality. If they’re willing to put in the work, it could give them a way to stand out while courting enthusiasts who want more control.