is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. You can reach him through one of the services below.+
An apparently common problem that many iPhone users encounter is that, after many months of use, the home button — the sole physical button on the device’s face — starts to lose its responsiveness, sometimes precipitously. When this happens, it may take several presses, or a prolonged press, to get the button to produce any results. And sometimes where one press of the button is intended, the device registers two. Very annoying.
I was surprised to discover from a friend that Apple technicians diagnosed this problem on her phone as software related, which struck me as counter-inuitive, as it seemed to me to be very much a hardware problem. There has also been talk of the button needing software recalibration. I don’t know if that approach works or not, but I’ll tell you what worked for me: the miracle “water-displacing spray” WD-40.
Spray and Play
In my experience, on not just my own iPhone 4 but also on my girlfriend’s, WD-40 restores the responsiveness of the iPhone’s home button to basically like-new condition. I just sprayed a little bit of WD-40 directly on the button, then pressed the button rapidly a few dozen times, tested its responsiveness afterwards, then repeated the process two or three times until it began to improve. Then I used the phone for a day or two to see how well the button did in actual use; I found that after a few days the problem ebbed back slightly, at which point I applied more WD-40. After the second or third application, the responsiveness remained indefinitely.
Caveat lector: I make no guarantees, and have no idea if this does any long-term harm to the device. I’m nearly certain someone will insist that it does, so anyone reading this and thinking about using WD-40 themselves should assume that this is a potentially risky fix, and I can accept no responsibilities for any damage done to your device. But for my part, I’ve had no problems with it, and it’s been six months or so since I tried this.
(Update: A friend suggests that this will void your warranty. I have no further knowledge on that issue, so, again, use your own judgment.)
In fact, I’ve found WD-40 to be a reliable and enjoyably analog fix to digital hardware for years. I first discovered this many, many years ago, when I asked an electronics repair technician if it was worth trying to fix an unresponsive button on a portable stereo that I then owned. He said don’t bother; just try a bit of WD-40. Since then I’ve used it on buttons on all sorts of hardware, always with success. The best part, of course, is that a can of WD-40 costs about as much as a sandwich and has a thousand uses.+