Apple has been rumored for months to be working on a new, virtual version of its iPhone fingerprint sensor. But now it’s working against the clock to get the feature to work.
Speaking to sources within Apple’s supply chain, KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Andy Hargreaves told investors on Monday that Apple is still having trouble getting its fingerprint sensor to work inside the upcoming iPhone 8’s display. According to the analyst, whose comments were earlier reported on by Barron’s, Apple has just a few weeks to fix the problem or face the possibility of an iPhone delay.
Apple is rumored to be planning a major new handset release this year, believed to be known as the iPhone 8. The device will reportedly come with an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) screen and a revamped, all-glass design. It could sit alongside modest updates to last year’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus handsets, rumored to be known as the iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus.
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If Apple indeed releases the iPhone 8 this year, it would be the first handset ever released by the company to offer OLED screen technology. What’s more, Apple is rumored to be planning a design that would eliminate the iPhone 8’s physical home button and instead cover the smartphone’s face with the OLED display.
Several reports have said that Apple (AAPL) wants to move the “Touch ID” fingerprint sensor from the physical home button to inside the screen. Users would then hold their fingers on the display to unlock it and authorize payments through the company’s mobile-payment platform Apple Pay. No physical button would be required.
Apple rival Samsung (SSNLF) said earlier this year that it was testing virtual fingerprint technology, but ultimately couldn’t get it to work in its flagship handset, the Galaxy S8. Samsung was rumored to be planning the feature for this summer’s Galaxy Note 8, but again, reportedly couldn’t get it to work properly.
If Hargreaves’ sources are correct, Apple might be suffering from the same problems with the iPhone 8. And he says that the company will need to get it working by August to ensure its suppliers have enough time to get enough units ready for an iPhone 8 release sometime in October or November.
If Apple can’t fix the problem, the analyst wrote, Apple could be forced to push back the iPhone 8’s launch or ditch a fingerprint sensor altogether—something the company wouldn’t want to do. Apple would replace it with a facial-scanning feature that would authenticate users before they can access the smartphone’s software.
“This option appears increasingly likely as time passes, but is far from ideal,” Hargreaves wrote to investors, according to Barron’s. “We believe Apple’s facial recognition solution should work from many angles and in low-light environments. However, it would not work without clear line of sight to the user’s face.”
Apple is expected to unveil the iPhone 8 at a press event in September. It’s now becoming increasingly unlikely the smartphone will be available to consumers anytime before October.