Thursday, October 6, 2016

New iPhone 8 Technology Could Hide Important Feature

Unlike the iterative and stale approach of the iPhone 7 family of smartphones, the tenth-anniversary iPhone should be packed with new technology and updated design. Part of that new design can be seen in the virtual home button employed in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, but the changes to the home button are not expected to stop there.

The move to using curved glass on the front and back panels will change the nature of the home button, especially if Apple uses an edge-to-edge OLED display. Instead of the now iconic circular depression on the front of Cupertino’s smartphone, the home button will become fully virtual.



Apple iPhone 7 (image: Ewan Spence)

Thanks to the use of the Assistive Touch option (found under the accessibility features in settings) and worries over the cost of replacing the physical home key, many users are already using a virtual home button on their iPhone. Many Android devices already use a virtual home button (alongside Android’s two other navigation buttons), but such a move by Tim Cook and his team raises the question of how to use TouchID.

Fingerprint recognition has become an important part of identifying a user and verifying actions in iOS, from using Apple Pay and signing in to iTunes, to confirming identity in online banking. Apple is not going to drop this feature. Neither will it want to change the UI paradigms of the identifying process (especially if the hardware changes on the preemptively titled iPhone 8 are as wide-ranging as expected). TouchID will need to sit under the screen.

Apple has been working on this feature for some time. A patent that outlines a process to embed a TouchID styled sensor under a screen display was first filed in 2014, and was published today by the USPTO (#9,460,332). Titled ‘Capacitive fingerprint sensor including an electrostatic lens’, it details how capacitive sensors can be used to read a user’s fingerprint.

The solution does require a tiny electrical current to be passed through the finger (which is something that the current TouchID sensor does). That may necessitate the TouchID is in a single physical place on the touchscreen of the new iPhone, even if the virtual home button can be moved around.


 Apple’s Curved Display patent (USPTO #9,367,095)

Hiding TouchID under the screen will remove one of the biggest arguments for the expansive bezels found in the current iPhone design language. Although patents can never be a guarantee that a technology will make its way to a consumer device, this patent is in step with Apple’s progression towards the iPhone 8. It joins technology such as curved glass, bright and vivid displays and wireless audio in the ’expected’ specs of next year’s iPhone.

The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus may not have set the world alight, but between them they have done enough to keep the product line feeling fresh and maintained sales at a similar level to the 2015 handsets. Evolution will keep Apple’s shareholders happy, but the real reward comes when the market can be disrupted and the iPhone can redefine what it means to be a smartphone.

Invisible TouchID can help make that happen when it arrives on next year’s handset.

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