It’s not often Apple leaks the next iPhone themselves. Once, an engineer forgot his iPhone 4 prototype in a bar, it was picked up and sold to a blog, who posted photos of it online. Apple went one step further this time, mistakenly releasing firmware for the Apple HomePod earlier than expected, which contained information on the new iPhone. Lots of information, it would turn out. Apple confirmed many rumors surrounding the iPhone 8, including its form factor, the size and shape of the screen, the resolution of the screen, the lack of a home button, facial recognition, AI powered cameras, and more. That photo above? That’s directly from Apple. That’s the iPhone 8.
Apple may as well have revealed the thing already.
The image above is an icon that was hiding in the HomePod firmware. Software is built in parts. We break things up into what we call “classes” which stand for “objects.” These parts can be reused in other items. It’s like two small cars a company sells using the same engine, rather than building a unique engine for both cars, the company saves money by making one engine design that can work elsewhere. That’s what software can do, and that’s likely what happened here, as the HomePod does not have a screen of its own. The icon itself seems to have something to do with Apple Pay.
From the image we can see that there’s no home button on the front of the iPhone. It’ll likely be embedded in the screen (more on that in a bit). We can also see that, for the first time, the iPhone screen will have a “cutout.” It seems as though there will be a notch taking out of the screen at the top for the earpiece, front facing cameras, and 3D sensors (again, more on that in a bit). The edges around this cutout will likely be used by the status bar, and will hopefully make users forget their screen has a small notch out of it while in use.
So what about that screen? It’ll be a 5.15″ display with a 2436×1125 resolution, just as was suggested by KGI’s Ming Chi Kuo. But a device with a screen that takes up so much of the front of the phone would be smaller than the 4.7″ iPhone 7, as iPhones have had gigantic bezels until now. This leads into the second part of Ming Chi Kuo’s prediction, the device will actually have two display areas, which, when combined, have an area of 5.8″. This is about the size of the Samsung Galaxy S8, which has a similar bezel-less display. Apple’s leak didn’t speak of this function area, which would have the virtual Home button and other controls, but it makes sense considering a device with that size and display area would have a screen larger than 5.15″. The resolution of the device also has to be mentioned. It’s a higher display density than the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple’s current highest mobile resolution. That means the display will look sharper than any iPhone before.
I can confirm reports that HomePod’s firmware reveals the existence of upcoming iPhone’s infra-red face unlock in BiometricKit and elsewhere pic.twitter.com/yLsgCx7OTZ
— Steve T-S (@stroughtonsmith) July 31, 2017
As for the notch out of the top of the screen? That’ll contain a front facing camera, or perhaps more. Apple’s Firmware makes mention of a BiometricKit and face recognition for security. It’ll use 3D infrared sensors that will be able to tell that a face not only has the same shape as the owners, but also that it’s warm like a human face would be. This will make 3D printing from a picture of a person’s face to unlock the device much more difficult. More difficult, but not impossible. Still, if it’s as fast as Touch ID, users will be able to lock their devices simply by looking at them.
Speaking of Touch ID, there is some bad news. There’s no information that would suggest that there’s an under display sensor for Apple’s fingerprint scanning technology. Apple could still release it, but this firmware doesn’t mention it, suggesting that it’s likely not going to be under the virtual home button. It’s been said that Apple has the technology, but couldn’t produce it on a large enough scale to sell to everyone who’d want one of these phones. There’s still a chance that it could be on the back of the device or on the power button (my hope), but it appears Apple could replace it entirely with facial recognition on the iPhone 8. This would be a strange move, as Touch ID is arguably more secure than facial recognition, would be easier to use for Apple Pay, and was just added to the MacBook Pro late last year. For this to already be phased out, less than a year after it was added to a new device, would be a monumental waste of effort for Apple’s development team. I can’t imagine the company would waste so much time bringing Touch ID to the Mac only to replace it with some fancy cameras a few months later.
Apple’s rear facing camera won’t just change orientation, which would be better for virtual reality (VR) recording and augmented reality (AR), they’ll also add a new “Smartcam” feature. It’s not completely known what this will entail, but it seems to apply AI to the camera, allowing scene detection and advanced facial recognition and tracking. The camera should be able to detect a number of scenes. From the firmware, we know it will at least be able to differentiate and select the perfect mode for scens including babies, bright stages, like at a concert, documents, fireworks, foliage, pets, bright skies, snow, rapid action shots, sun rise and sunset and point light sources, such as when a bright light is in the frame. We could see more computations going into Apple’s camera, making photos better automatically, depending on what the scene requires. We could even see something like Google’s incredible scene detection on the Pixel, which allows the phone to combine numerous photos. With Apple’s dual cameras, they can collect depth information as well as exposure information. This would make the iPhone 8’s camera the most powerful mobile phone camera. We could see professional-looking photos that were taken on an iPhone by someone who’s not a photography expert.
Apple’s camera won’t just be for amazing photos either, it’ll be for the same silly effects we’ve seen from Snapchat. Apple’s been working on highly advanced AR, which allows devices to use nothing but the camera to scan an area, provide depth information, and insert software-generated items into a scene. Apple’s firmware makes mention of “ARFaceAnchor” which would allow augmented reality tracking of a person’s face, potentially to replace with code or add silly effects like those found in Snapchat.
Apple’s iPhone 8 will be a game-changer. It’ll be peak iPhone, the epitome of what is an iPhone. It may also be the last new iPhone before Apple introduces augmented reality glasses either next year or the year later. It’s doubtful that Apple would completely replace the iPhone with these, but a process will have begun. This could be the last time the iPhone is the best new product Apple’s releasing in a year. That’s all speculation. What isn’t speculation, is that the iPhone will have a huge screen in a small form factor, facial recognition, advanced imaging capabilities, and no physical home button. Apple told us as much as they could about the iPhone 8 before releasing it, and they most certainly didn’t intend to.
- Romain Dillet, TechCrunch: “HomePod firmware reveals iPhone 8 design and facial recognition.“
- Samuel Gibbs, The Guardian: “iPhone 8: everything we know from Apple’s big software leak.“
- Neil Hughes, AppleInsider: “HomePod firmware digging affirms ‘iPhone 8’ will have 5.15″ display area with 2436×1125 resolution.“