What should I do if the home button on my iPhone stops working?

One tiny button, so much potential stress.
Image courtesy of Apple, Inc.

With the release of the iPhone 5 in 2012, Apple continues to see retention of its current consumer base as well as new customers excited by its features. And while some of us do enjoy complaining about our phones as much as we enjoy using them, there are a few notable issues we can actually do something about. After all, if there's a fix for things like lag, full memory and other performance issues, you're only harming yourself by not taking full advantage of the solutions available. For some problems, of course, only a trip to the Genius Bar can bring a happy resolution. But sometimes, it's a simple matter of updating software, clearing out your files, or otherwise performing the maintenance yourself.

While Apple is more "helpful" than other operating systems, meaning you have less obvious access to its inner workings, it's always important to remember that this device is yours. You paid for it and you know what you need from it. The phone is not going to zap you with electricity just for doing something wrong, and the Apple Police are not going to come knock down your door for trying a few fixes. Just keep what might void your warranty, and don't try anything expressly prohibited -- there are generally good reasons for those warnings.

In this article, we'll be talking about the epidemic of unresponsive home buttons, and what you can do about it before taking (or sending) your phone all the way to the Apple store. If your home button has lost its zing, or thinks a double-click is a single-click (deadly!), you are not alone. Since the iPhone 4.1 update, consumers have complained more and more about this problem.

Is there a software fix?

Troubleshooting

For any iOS device, first follow the basic Apple troubleshooting steps:

1. Reset your gadget by holding the home and sleep buttons until the screen blanks out and shows an Apple logo. This will reboot your device.

2. If that doesn't work for you, plug the device into iTunes and restore from your last backup. Take care, in this step, to also check out any new Apps or other programs that might be slowing you down. You can always bring them back later if you delete them now.

3. If you're still having problems, back up any info or media that's not already in the cloud, and restore the device as new.

4. The final (and most drastic) step is to reinstall the iOS itself, but it's best to do this only after getting the OK from someone at Apple, either on the phone or in the store. It's a hassle, and could introduce more problems if done incorrectly.

It's also important to check out what programs are running when you notice a performance issue. If a third-party app or some background software is bugging out or lagging, it could interfere with basics like the home button in ways you don't expect. In fact, it's best determine those things before even trying the first step in the list above, just because it's so common.

Recalibration

Before heading into step three, however, some loyal customers believe it's possible to recalibrate the home button itself. Although this is often charged as an "urban legend" of sorts, as many people seem to get results as those who are excited about debunking it. As with all gadgets, you have to take online advice from an unknown source with a grain of salt. Everyone's an expert on the Internet, right?

It's important to note that this tip can't actually hurt your device -- or void your warranty, like some software tricks -- so you might as well give it a shot. It's pretty quick and simple, although some folks say you'll need to try it up to five times to see results.

1. First, launch any pre-installed app (Calendar, Notes, Reminders, etc.).

2. Hold down the Power button until you get the "Slide To Power Off" prompt, then let go.

3. Hold down Home for about 10 seconds, until that prompt disappears.

What you're really doing is simply force-closing that application you opened -- which relates to the "background noise" troubleshoot we talked about before -- but for whatever reason, people say this trick sometimes gets the home button back in shape.

Is there a physical fix?

While most software fixes and recalibrations are completely safe to try, think twice before you decide to attempt a physical fix on your own -- it could void the phone's warranty.
While most software fixes and recalibrations are completely safe to try, think twice before you decide to attempt a physical fix on your own -- it could void the phone's warranty.
©iStockphoto.com/Mutlu Kurtbas

Part of the price tag on your iOS device includes access to the help you need to keep it in tip-top shape. Once you get it into the store, the staff will take care of you -- just know that most fixes, unless you've paid for extra insurance, will come at a cost. If you've ruled out software issues with the troubleshooting steps above, most especially plugging it into your Mac or iTunes and seeing what happens, you're most likely looking at a hardware problem.

Faulty home buttons are a legitimate issue, and if that's what you've got, most experts would suggest simply replacing the button itself. Apple can do that for you, or if you're feeling confident you can even do it yourself, following along with online guides.

But Apple doesn't recommend it -- there are some compounds that can mess up the screen, so be wary -- but if you're feeling OK with your skills, some DIY experts recommend this: just a couple drops of nail polish remover on the Home button itself, after turning off the phone. Click the button a few dozen times, wipe off the remaining liquid, give it a half-hour, and switch it back on. If you're brave, we hear this could be the winner.

If you're still experiencing trouble -- and haven't accidentally damaged your phone! -- you're really at the end of the line. Call or contact the helpful Apple support team. And good luck!

If you find yourself stuck in an app and can't go Home, simply turn the device off and on and you'll boot to the Home screen. Then, under Settings > General > Accessibility > Physical & Motor, you'll find the Assistive Touch setting, which puts a virtual Home button directly on your screen. It's engineered for convenience, which means it'll follow you into any App and you can move it around as you like. Now you can just use this button and head to the AssistiveTouch menu. Once you've got the option enabled, it'll be there for you regardless of how your Home button is acting today.

Author's Note

While I myself am an Android user, I have always admired Apple's design aesthetic and philosophy. Watching friends do battle with the heartbreak of home button freezes irks me because it interrupts the illusion of seamless tech/life integration that makes Apple and iOS products so attractive and aspirational. More importantly, Apple leads the industry in just those kinds of innovations, so it's important for your Apple products to always look their best -- that way, my own favorite manufacturers will know where to head next!

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Sources

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  • Kingsley-Hughes, Adrian. "Software Fix For A Broken iPhone 'Home' Button". Forbes.com. August 2012. (Sept. 23, 2012) http://www.forbes.com/sites/adriankingsleyhughes/2012/08/24/software-fix-for-a-broken-iphone-home-button/
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