A just published Apple patent shows Touch ID sensors embedded throughout a device display, which means iPhone and iPad users could potentially touch anywhere on their screen to unlock with their finger print. Touch to unlock is currently a Home button feature, but if this patent finds its way into shipping products, it could be the demise for our little clickable friend.
As if that isn’t enough to show the Home button is headed to death row, Apple explains in the patent that moving Touch ID to the full display surface will “avoid assigning valuable surface space exclusively to a component that may only be used briefly during the process of identifying the user.”
Patently Apple notes this isn’t a new idea for Apple. Efforts to put the Home button out to pasture date back to 2009.
Ditching the Home button would free up space for a larger display without increasing the overall size of the iPhone, and more usable screen area may be exactly what Apple is going for. It also means Apple most likely has some other ideas in mind for functions currently assigned to the Home button—like returning to the home screen, or double-press for Apple Pay.
Life without an iPhone Home button may be coming sooner than many people expect. As TMO’s Dave Hamilton pointed out on the TMO Daily Observations podcast, Apple already removed the button in the iPhone 7 and replaced it with a touch sensitive surface that uses haptic feedback to trick our brains into thinking we pressed a physical button. The next step is to remove location-limited touch surface and embed its sensors in the display.
Apple will have to address the loss of the Home button as a tactile way to know the iPhone’s orientation in our hand without looking, and is likely already experimenting with ideas that go beyond placement of the volume buttons and Lightning connector port. Once Apple’s engineers hammer out the details, get ready for Tim Cook or Phil Schiller to tell us why it’s time to get over the Home button they currently say we can’t live without.