Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The iPhone 8’s ‘home button’

There could be major changes coming to the iPhone this year, and one of them centers around the home button and Touch ID fingerprint sensor.

The latest rumors and leaks indicate that the Touch ID sensor will either be under the screen or on the back of the iPhone 8. Apple may be having trouble perfecting the Touch ID under the screen technology, which would be the reason we are hearing of the two possibilities. Either way, I haven’t seen too much discussion on the actual implications this brings to the home button’s functionality. Think about it–Touch ID has been married to the home button ever since its introduction with the iPhone 5s. With talk of the sensor relocating due to the borderless screen, what happens to the home button?

Android solves the home button problem with a soft button taking up a small amount of screen real estate. I just don’t see Apple going down that route. Multiple Android-based phones also have the fingerprint sensor on the back, which is a bad experience if you use your phone while it’s resting on a desk. I think Apple would only do this if they absolutely could not get the Touch ID sensor to function perfectly under the screen.

Apple shows a little bit of their hand at a time. They showed their affinity for high pixel density screens with the Retina screen on the iPhone 4. Gradually, the Retina screen made it to all their products. You can see this same pattern with things like Touch ID going from iPhone to iPad to MacBook Pro. Force Touch began on Apple Watch and a similar technology made its way to iPhone (in the form of 3D Touch). I think 3D Touch is the real ace up their sleeves when it comes to the home button.

Here’s how I think the Touch ID and the new “home button” could work…

Unlocking the phone (the Touch ID portion)

If the Touch ID fingerprint sensor is under the screen:

  • Placing your finger on a defined area of the screen to scan for your fingerprint. If you 3D Touch this area, the phone gives way to the lock screen. This mimics the current home button setup 1:1.
  • 3D-touching a notification on your lock screen could trigger a fingerprint read. If successful, your phone is automatically unlocked. You could then jump right into the app from the notification, or take actions on the notification that require your fingerprint.

If the Touch ID fingerprint sensor is on the back of the phone:

  • Similar interaction as we have now (rest your fingerprint on the sensor to unlock), but how do we get to the home screen?

Getting to the home screen

I think Apple has already solved this. Have you ever used 3D Touch on the left border of your screen? If you do, it will open up the application switcher. If you 3D Touch then drag all the way to the right, you’ll switch immediately into the last app you used. It’s an awesome user experience that sadly most people don’t know about. Once you know about it, it’s hard to go back to using the home button for these tasks.

If you take this same line of thought, Apple could make the middle bottom border of the screen act as a 3D Touch hotspot for the home button. 3D Touch once to go home, double-tap to go into the app switcher, hold it down to activate Siri, and so on.

Other Methods

HTC has introduced its U11 smart phone, and it wants you to squeeze it. Using a new feature called “Edge Sense”, the phone can detect when you squeeze its sides and trigger certain actions (such as launching the camera app). If you squeeze the phone longer, it will perform a secondary action, such as launching the Google Assistant (Siri competitor) or turning on the flashlight.

I think this is a really interesting new interface for using your phone. It sounds like it could be a little awkward at first, but it’s definitely intriguing and less gimmicky than other things manufacturers have tried over the years. Surely, there is potential for squeezing your phone inadvertently, but some of that can be negated with software. This would be similar to how most modern smartphones detect accidental taps and swipes.

This type of interaction could mimic the iPhone’s home button as well, and while I don’t see Apple doing this kind of thing, it’s definitely intriguing to think about.