Random Thought: The Eventual Demise of Power Buttons

It was late 1 and I was at my computer trying to figure some annoying coding problem on my wife’s website. I was tired and I stared blankly at the keyboard on my MacBook Air. I was praying that some how that keyboard would type the answers for me. Then I saw that damned power button in the corner of the keyboard and it just stuck with me, I thought: why the hell is that there.

Ok: I know the power button is there to turn on the computer (and in some case to turn it off). In over a month of owning the MacBook Air, do you know how many times I have pressed that button? Neither do I, but if I had to guess I would reckon that I have pressed it no more than 4 times, likely just twice.

Now anybody who computed in the 90s can probably tell you that the power button was used almost daily, and the clever little ‘reset’ buttons twice daily. 2 Today though most Mac users probably very rarely push the power button on their computer. Maybe only when they fly. 3

If you really think about it, how long would you give power buttons before they go the way of the floppy disk? I bet in the next year we will start to see more and more devices that just have sleep buttons, completely lacking a dedicated button to turn the device on and off. Why would you? 4

Think about your iPad/iPhone, you probably press the power button at the top all the time. What you probably rarely ever do is press and hold that button to turn the device on and off, instead you just use that button to sleep the device. Same with the power button on your Mac, sure you restart it now and then, but shut it down? Nah, that is soo Clinton era. Instead you just close the laptop screen and open the screen. Simple.

Battery life is simply too good to worry about turning things on and off any longer. Power management while our devices are in ‘standby’ modes has been perfected to the point where we no longer worry about our devices while they sleep.

In fact the main reason we used to turn gadgets on and off was to conserve battery life, but my MacBook Air will sleep for 30 days. I can’t remember the last time I went 4 days without using my computer, let alone 30. Advances in power management are truly making off and on irrelevant in today’s electronics.

Most office workers remember having to turn their machines off at the end of the day and back on the next morning. I doubt many do that any longer, either they are using a laptop, or on a desktop simply locking the machine when they leave is sufficient for their employer.

I used to turn off my cell phone daily. Now I get anxiety about what I might miss when I need to reboot it. There rarely is ever a reason to turn my phone completely off.

I am not trying to be nostalgic about things, I am trying to prove a point: more and more power buttons are becoming completely obsolete.

In fact the only power buttons I push any more are for my TV, the Receiver attached to the TV and my dSLR. How long do you think it will be until our TVs are just always on and ready to be used, perhaps just showing a picture slideshow until we start watching a video? How long until our cameras sense being picked up and having the shutter depressed?

I hope it is not long, because I am beginning to forget what the power button is for.

The oddest cases of power buttons are with bluetooth peripherals, things like mice, keyboards, headsets. Why do these need power buttons? I have two bluetooth headsets in my car, both are on 24/7 and when the battery runs low I recharge them in the car. It is all rather painless and I never have to think about turning them on and off.

Same with my Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad: both on all the time. I never turn them off and why would I? It would be just one extra step I would need to take before using them. I am sure some of you are saying: ah, but when you thorw peripherals like mice and keyboards in a bag with your laptop they could potentially wake up that device. True, but honestly that seems like a problem that could easily be solved with the next software update. Most modern Mac users will tell you that even if you allow a bluetooth device to ‘wake’ your Mac, that it will not do so unless the lid is open, or a display is attached to it. So really if your Macbook [whatever] is in your computer bag with a mouse that is “on” – you have nothing to worry about.

I think we could save a lot of space on these devices if we all just agree that power buttons are irrelevant.

What if my Magic Trackpad was always off until it sensed my fingers near the device, then at that moment it sprung to life and started working. Perhaps it isn’t really off, just sleeping. Same with bluetooth headsets, they wake up when I put one on, and are sleeping the rest of the time.

Don’t even get me started on external HD enclosures that have on and off switches on the back of them. Can you think of any more ways to annoy consumers: “before you want to use this external HD that is ugly and you have hidden away, be sure to turn in on using that small hidden black switch on the back.” Thanks for that manufacturers.

  1. For me, which means it was about 11pm.
  2. Nice job Microsoft.
  3. Though I don’t even do that – I know that makes me bad.
  4. Yes, yes, planes I know.
Originally posted for members on: December 13, 2010
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