iOS 5 beta 3 has an interesting new addition -- Accessibility has been augmented with a gesture based control panel inside “AssistiveTouch” that can reproduce all the functionality of the existing hardware buttons, and much more.
Once turned on in Settings, the control panel can be activated by tapping the overlay on screen. It pops up with a menu containing Gestures, Favorites, Devices, and Home. Gestures has a sub menu for 2, 3, 4, and 5 finger gestures, and once you choose a quantity, blue circles in the appropriate amount appear on screen. Favorites contains defaults like Pinch and Swipe, and any custom gestures you've created. Device replicates the hardware features such as Rotate Screen, Lock Screen, Mute/Unmute, Volume Up/Volume Up, and Shake.
While some may think this heralds Apple ditching hardware buttons, remember, you would still need a way to reset your device if it locks up, to turn off the ringer or change volume if it's in your pocket or purse, and to keep iOS accessible for children and people form whom complex UI and gestures are a barrier to entry.
Still, this could turn out to be a very interesting addition to iOS 5, especially for advanced users who want to have a software-based interface. Most importantly, it shows that Apple -- who is already incredibly far ahead of the competition when it comes to accessibility -- is not slowing down.