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The most understated design choice on the iPad: The volume button

You will have no doubt noticed that the volume buttons and toggle switch on the iPhone and iPod touch are on the opposite side to the iPad’s. There’s likely a good reason for that.

Between 70-90% of the world’s population is right-handed. That means they’ll use their right hand to interact with the iPhone. As the iPhone is designed to be held single-handedly, having the volume buttons on the left-hand side means the user’s left thumb can change the volume with almost no extra effort. It’s still easy to change the volume if you use the phone in your right hand, but it’s not as easy. Apple weren’t the first company to do this, indeed the Treo 650 (and most Palm devices) followed this design1.

But when Apple released the iPad, the volume buttons and toggle switch were moved from left to right. Everything else was designed to be as close to the iPhone as possible, so why move the volume buttons? This is one of those design decisions that seems trivial, yet it was a deliberate decision that was to serve quite a big purpose.

The left side of the iPad is to be thought of as a book spine. It’s why the iPad is a predominantly portrait-orientated tablet. Books, newspapers and magazines have the spine on the left and we turn the pages which flow from right to left as we progress through them. If you have a Smart Cover, turn your iPad upside down and try to use it. It doesn’t feel natural does it? Anything that jolts the user out of the whole experience is usually attributed to a poor design choice. If Apple had kept the buttons on the left side of the device, cases and covers such as the Smart Cover couldn’t exist as they’d be too detrimental to the experience.

It’s why whenever I see a tablet such as the Nexus 10 which is landscape-orientated (as in the buttons, camera and livery are all to be viewed in landscape), I imagine how much of a distraction it would be to constantly have the Google logo at 90 degrees to the content whilst I’m trying to read.

  1. The Nokia Lumia range doesn’t follow this design and has it’s volume buttons on the right.