KGI: iPhone 8 to Feature Greatest Screen to Body Ratio, but no Touch ID?

KGI’s analyst Ming Chi Kuo has a decent enough track record. One estimate places his accuracy for iPhone leaks at 44%, which is not bad for the industry. His latest information on the iPhone is likely sourced from suppliers of iPhone 8 parts, though he (hopefully) has incomplete information. On one hand, he’s come with some good news: the iPhone 8 will have the greatest screen to body ratio of any smartphone on the market today. It’s hard to imagine anyone beating the phenomenal screen on the Samsung Galaxy S8, but the S8 screen doesn’t cover the entire device, though it seems to. There’s a portion at the top of the device for the front facing camera, earpiece, and other front facing sensors. On the bottom, there’s a symmetrical bezel. The iPhone, if current leaks are to be believed, won’t have that. Instead, there will be a cutout on the screen for the front facing cameras and sensors, and no need for a symmetrical bezel on the bottom of the phone. Though the S8’s screen may wrap around the phone slightly on each side, this won’t be enough to beat out the iPhone’s large but flat screen. The screen will be 5.8″ in size, but will have a function area, like the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, which will make the usable screen space about 5.2″. The device will be only slightly larger than the iPhone 7.

What was Samsung thinking?

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is far from perfect. Annoyances in Samsung’s customized version of Android is the biggest detractor. However, there’s one major problem with the otherwise wonderful hardware: the fingerprint sensor. Samsung placed this on the back of the phone, directly next to the camera, meaning a right handed person will likely smudge up their camera lens every time they unlock their device. There’s no space on the front of the device, clearly, and Samsung thought this was the best spot on the back of the device for the sensor. According to Ming Chi Kuo, Apple will fix their Touch ID problem in a different way: omitting it altogether. But if Apple does that, will the iPhone still be worth purchasing?

Touch ID is a marvelous feature. I love that many of my secured apps are locked down with Touch ID, and I love using it for Apple Pay. Just double tap on the home button, hold my thumb on the Touch ID sensor, and tap it to the card reader. Just like that I’ve paid for my black dark roast iced coffee at Dunkin Donuts. Ordering food on GrubHub? No need to authorize PayPal or remember my credit card information, I just tap my thumb on the home button and my food is on the way. Plus, unlocking the phone is a breeze. I use a 10+ digit passcode, which isn’t something I’d like to type in every time I go to unlock my phone. Touch ID isn’t just useful, it’s completely vital for making the iPhone an intuitive device. But how could Apple get it under the display?

Ultrasonic fingerprint scanning is something a few companies, including Apple, own patents on and have been working on. However, they’re potentially more difficult to produce and slower than the optical solutions Apple uses currently. They offer many benefits though. besides enabling phones to be more waterproof, as a separate area isn’t required, they also work when wet. In fact, Vivo’s sensor (promo above) can be used underwater. There’s been one huge problem with this though. Apple hasn’t been able to secure the production of their fingerprint sensors, and wouldn’t be able to make them as accurate as they need to be in time. They also simply wouldn’t be able to produce enough in time. 

A figure from an Apple patent for using depth information with facial recognition.

What could Apple replace Touch ID with? Kuo thinks Apple will use two front facing cameras and sensors to enable facial recognition. There are problems with this though. First of all, using Apple Pay. When tapping your device on an Apple Pay enabled reader, you’re likely not holding the device towards you. I often pull my phone out of my purse or back pocket, activate Apple Pay, and tap it on the reader all in one motion. The screen isn’t facing me during any part of this interaction. If I had to pause, face the screen to authorize, and then tap it on the reader, the entire motion would take far longer, at least 2-5 seconds. I might as well use my card at that point. On top of that, it’s less secure, as I wouldn’t have to be in physical possession of my device to enable Apple Pay. That’s not something I’m willing to put up with. I could always use my Apple Watch, but holding my watch up to most readers is awkward, involving wrist contortions to put the face near the reader. Besides, Apple shouldn’t expect everyone to own an Apple Watch for payments.

Facial recognition is also inheritantly less secure than a fingerprint sensor. New technology can’t be fooled by a photo, as it uses 3D mapping of a face to ensure it’s the right person using it. However, it can be fooled by a 3D printing of a person’s face. Touch ID works similarly, it reads the 3D ridges of your finger, however it also requires a physical touch. This means it can read your skin to ensure that the finger on it is a living human finger. This is much more difficult to replicate, even with access to a person’s fingerprint. 

Finally, there’s another problem with facial recognition. The device would likely not take skin tone into consideration, just the 3D shaping, as to allow anyone who wears makeup to still gain access to their device, but it could be confused if part of the face is blocked by hair or glasses then. Changes in facial shape from age, injury, or simply changing your facial expression could also cause problems. The fact is, facial recognition could never be as fast, useful, or ergonomic as the Touch ID sensor. But if Apple couldn’t get the ultrasonic technology to read fingerprints from underneath the display working, what could they do?

A Touch Bar-like function area concept

The Touch Bar area holds the answer to this riddle. On the MacBook Pro, the Touch Bar is a seamless OLED display at the top of the keyboard. To the far right of it, there’s the Touch ID sensor, seemingly a part of the main display but actually separate entirely. Apple could do the same thing with the iPhone, allowing part of the bottom display, which has been rumored to be a mobile version of the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, be a permanent sensor for Touch ID. It wouldn’t be the best looking solution, and full screen videos would only be able to use about 5.2″ of the screen, rather than the full 5.8″, but this could still be better than allowing the device to go without a fingerprint sensor.  

Leaks have shown the iPhone 8’s power button will be longer and closer to the bottom of the device. This would make it sit exactly where most people’s thumbs sit while they’re using the device. Apple has also patented hiding a fingerprint sensor inside of a slim button, much like the iPhone’s power/screen lock button. It wouldn’t be the most elegant solution for scanning anything besides a thumbprint, but it’s likely most users never use their other fingers for Touch ID anyway. Putting the fingerprint sensor in the lock button would be Apple’s best option if they can’t do under-screen fingerprint sensing or a Touch Bar area that includes the fingerprint sensor. 
Of course, there’s a final possibility as well. Apple could just do what every Android manufacturer with a large screen device and fingerprint sensor has done: put the thing on the back of the device. Apple could be smart enough to keep the fingerprint sensor away from the camera (seriously, Samsung, what the hell?), but placing it on the center of the device on the back would be a smart idea. Would it be perfect? Of course not. But it would be far better than no sensor at all, and would enable users to use either hand or their middle fingers for unlocking their device and authorizing payments, which wouldn’t be possible if the sensor was on the right side of the device.

Could Kuo be right? If he is, the iPhone 8 will lose a lot of value. Some people may not want to buy it, even with facial recognition, due to usability and security concerns. Apple would surely still sell many iPhone 8 devices, however customer satisfaction with the devices would likely drop due to the increased difficulty of using facial recognition over a Touch ID sensor. Would I personally buy it? Likely. But I’d complain about Apple’s stupidity for an entire year until Apple replaces it with a fingerprint sensor again. I’ll be absolutely insufferable. 

I mean, more than usual. 


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