Apple Might Make Big Changes to the iPhone’s Buttons

February 16, 2017, 4:05 PM UTC
Photograph by Sean Gallup—Getty Images

Apple’s next iPhone could come with some big changes that eliminate the Home Button, according to one analyst.

In a note to investors on Wednesday, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said that he believes Apple’s next high-end handset, believed to be known as the iPhone 8 or iPhone X, will come with a 5.8-inch touch surface. However, about 5.2 inches of that will be actual screen space. The rest, Kuo said, according to Apple-tracking site Macrumors, which obtained a copy of the note, will be dedicated to a virtual button panel that will replace the iPhone’s Home Button sensor.

Several reports of late have said that Apple (AAPL) is planning to remove the Home Button sensor in a device that could commemorate the 10th anniversary of its iPhone, which initially hit store shelves in 2007. It would be a first for Apple, which has always placed a Home Button beneath the iPhone’s display to act as a component that, when pressed, lets users navigate the operating system iOS. Over the last few years, the Home Button has also doubled as a fingerprint sensor that unlocks the iPhone’s software and in the last couple of years, authorized mobile payments via Apple Pay when users held their fingers on it.

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Apple’s iPhone 8 or iPhone X is expected to be the flagship smartphone the company announces this year. While Apple is still expected to offer an iPhone 7s and iPhone 7s Plus that mimic in design and function last year’s iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone 8 or iPhone X could offer an all-glass design (as opposed to the metal in the iPhone 7 line), as well as a bigger screen. That display is expected to feature organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, a first for Apple.

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While Apple hasn’t commented on future plans for its Home Button, the company has filed for several patents in recent years on technologies that would allow it to eliminate the physical button and create a virtual area on which users could interact with the software and make mobile payments via Apple Pay. Earlier this week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) published an Apple patent on a technology that would create a virtual Home Button under the iPhone’s display. It was the latest in a string of several similar technologies Apple is apparently considering.

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However, many of those rumors have said users could press down anywhere on the screen to activate the Home Button functions. Kuo, who is one of the more accurate Apple predictors, now believes that a virtual function area will sit beneath the display space where users can interact with the device. Kuo also told investors that Apple might opt to use the area for more than just Home Button functions.

Kuo also said that Apple is planning to make the iPhone 8 or iPhone X small enough to accommodate one-handed control. He said that the handset could be about the same size as a 4.7-inch iPhone 7.