I have taken a pretty hard stance of avoiding all of the too-early to mean anything rumor madness surrounding the coming iPhone 8. We are getting close to the point where the rumors will start to become more and more consistent as the device that will become the new flagship iPhone heads toward final production. Until then, we still have a few back and forth debates raging over whether certain features will be either disabled at release to be turned on with a later update, or cut from the device altogether. I discussed three of these features in question in yesterday’s article, The iPhone 8- A “Sense of Panic” Might Be Just What the Doctor Ordered, and Touch ID was among them.
Whether or not Apple includes or removes Touch ID seems to still be up for debate at the moment. We’ve all heard the stories of low yield rates and lack of consistency with the sensor embedded in the display or early prototypes, and Apple fans are aware of the meaningless hand-wringing and arguing over whether the sensor may be moved to the back of the new phone or not. I personlly don’t see where choosing sides or making predictions is of any benefit. Good or bad, agree or disagree, Apple will make their design choices for their reasons, and we the consumers will be left to decide if what they come up with in the end is desireable or not.
What I do find interesting about this part of the debate over the next iPhone is how Apple currently approachs editing their devices. For many years, they have been more aggressive than any other computer manufacturer in killing off legacy support for all kinds of things. The past is littered with examples, such as Serial Ports, Floppy Drives, FireWire, and Optical Drives. Apple almost always pulls support for hardware standards before anyone else, and in most cases, the end result has been beneficial. They have often been able to push adoption of “the next thing” in each hardware category. Last year, this trend extended to the most legacy of ALL legacy hardware standards- the smartphone headphone jack. More on this in a bit.
What is even more interesting to me is Apple’s more recent trend toward the same treatment of their own proprietary hardware and connectors. The old iPod Dock Connector gave way to the Lightning Port and Connector with the introduction of the iPhone 5.
While it wasn’t convenient at the time, it was a solid and necessary upgrade in many ways. More recently, we have seen the MagSafe Connector removed from the latest MacBook and MacBook Pro machines in favor of Apple going all-in on USB-C. This decision, which has lead to a major rise in the need for and use of dongles to connect devices that once had native ports on the laptop, has been the source of much angst in the Apple user community.
While many in the tech media and Apple blogosphere would say that these last two changes diverged from their previous path of hardware edits that benefitted users and pushed hardware forward, I am not as convinced. There is a very good argument to be made that Apple should include a USB-C to MagSafe adapter in the box of every MacBook and MacBook Pro, and there are plenty of reasons to question Apple’s decision to remove the SD Card slot. However, despite these two issues, I don’t see Apple’s shift to the USB-C standard, which the entire computer industry in slowly moving towards, as user hostile at all. In another year or so, support for the standard will be better and more pervasive because Apple made this move.
This brings us to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus Headphone Jack, or lack of one. Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack from their most recent iPhones drew almost universal derision from the tech press and also angered some very loyal Apple fans. It was a move described by many as “user hostile,” which is fairly new territory for Apple. Whatever the arguments are, for or against, Apple didn’t do themselves any favors here either, trotting Phil Schiller out on stage to talk about how “brave” they were to make this decision. That was a completely tone-deaf and arrogant statement, and it only increased the backlash against them.
I was never angry over Apple removing the headphone jack from the 7 and 7 Plus, and I never had a moment’s pause about upgrading because of it. However, I also didn’t see removing the jack as being beneficial to me in any way. I look at it this way- when Apple changes something like this on the iPhone, they are usually thinking a generation ahead. Whatever the reason for the removal of the headphone jack was, I always assumed it had more to do with the iPhone 8 than the iPhone 7. A perfect example is the already discussed Dock Connector. Apple probably could have worked their magic and used that connector on he iPhone 5 and 5S. However, there is absolutely no way it would have worked on the 6 or 6S hardware. That switch was made with the future in mind, and the move away from the headphone jack was the same. We like just don’t see all of that future quite yet.
As for Apple’s usual stance of editing hardware to embrace new standards, I think the only thing holding us back from seeing the removal of the headphone jack that way right now is the fact that they are still struggling to meet demand for AirPods seven months later. I didn’t see their vision until I finally got a pair and started using them, but it fits the traditional Apple mold. The W1 chip makes pairing effortless and pairing to all of the rest of your Apple devices via iCloud was a very smart move. Apple putting this chip in Beats products that fit other price points and use cases was also very smart. Add in the fact that pretty much all new cars come with some kind a Bluetooth or CarPlay interface to their info-tainment systems, and you have a world where wireless audio will be easier and more available than ever before. Apple’s timing and messaging weren’t so good when it came to removing the headphone jack, but the move looks far less user hostile today than it did at the time.
All of this finally brings me to Touch ID and the coming iPhone 8. As I said before, we don’t yet know what Apple is going to do. However, for the sake of argument, I would say that removing Touch ID from the iPhone 8 would NOT be consistent with removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the MagSafe Connector from the MacBook Pro, or any of their other past hardware edits. If Apple does make this move, they would have to state a reason for doing it, and I just don’t see a plausible one out there. First of all, Touch ID is NOT legacy. This standard is only four years old, and there isn’t a replacement already available, so there is just no way Apple would be able to make that argument stand up.
Also, the Touch ID standard is extremely fast and reliable at this point. It may not be legacy, but it IS mature technology. This is why it is so critical to Apple. Touch ID is the foundation for Apple Pay. If you use Keychain to keep up with your passwords, then Touch ID is also the gateway to all of your passwords and your online identity. We use Touch ID for all App Store purchases. Many developers integrate it within their apps for secure authentication. It provides a means of security that it easy enough to set up and reliable enough in use that more people now have there iPhones secured than ever before. Oh, and thanks to the Touch Bar, Touch ID has also come to the Mac. Just think about the massive importance that Touch ID currently has in Apple’s product portfolio.
Now consider implications of replacing Touch ID with a brand new technology. If Apple decides to replace it with the rumored completely new 3D facial recognition system, it would be a massive, and frankly unnecessary, gamble. We’ve already talked about user hostile decisions. If 3D facial scanning didn’t work as well as Touch ID off the bat, and think about just how high a bar that is, then Apple would be guilty of encouraging users to be less secure. A large number of unhappy users who had enabled Touch ID because it worked well and was handier than inputting a passcode will likely just disable device security altogether. That really would be user hostile.
It comes down to why? Again, this is all for the sake of argument right now. We don’t know how this will play out. But if it did, there is only one reason that Touch ID would be completely removed from the iPhone 8- aesthetics. The entire reason for Apple attempting to embed the Touch ID sensor in the screen is so that the entire front face of the device can become a glass surface with no Home button. This is an interesting enough phone design that I don’t have any issue with Apple taking this approach with Touch ID.
However, while I’m sure Apple doesn’t want to be seen as having to follow in Samsung’s footsteps with the Galaxy S8, if they can’t make Touch ID work embedded in the screen, they really need to move the sensor to the back of the phone. I wouldn’t like this move any more than anyone else. However, Touch ID has GOT to be on this next phone, and as I already stated, there is only one reason Apple would avoid putting the sensor on the back. The look and feel of any device cannot be seen as paramount to security. The risk of removal just seems so unnecessary. The likelihood that 3D facial scanning would work as well as first generation Touch ID, much less the more mature version that we have now, is unlikely.
Now, if Apple’s 3D facial scanning tech were to progress quickly, to the point where it was just as good or better than Touch ID, then go ahead and call Touch ID legacy and remove it from the iPhone 9. I wouldn’t have any issue with this, and I don’t think most other Apple users would, either. However, this is a very different thing than making the move directly to an unproven new technology now.
The article is all about speculation and conjecture. I’m not predicting what Apple will do, because it wouldn’t be anything but a guess. However, I started thinking about writing this after Mark Gurman wrote his piece Apple Tests 3-D Face Scaning to Unlock Next iPhone for Bloomberg. While Apple has doubled down on secrecy, Gurman is still known as the man who has sources within the company. He has been a little more quiet this year, likely due to the increased security to prevent leaks. With his reputation at stake, why would he break virtual radio silence on feature rumors if he didn’t have something he felt was credible? No matter how good Apple may feel this new facial scanning tech is, this article legitimately worries me in a way that other rumor posts don’t.
All I can do is hope that, when the next iPhone is revealed, that Touch ID is still present. If it isn’t, maybe I will be wrong, but I’ll be worried. And if Phil Schiller gets on stage and starts talking Apple being brave again, I and many other Apple fans will be angry, and with good reason. In my article yesterday about panic and its effects on the company, I said that this release will tell us everything we need to know about how the Apple of today matches up with the Apple that brought us the original iPhone. Well, whether Touch ID is included will give us a big indication as to whether Apple is still primarily user-focused, or whether their vision of device aesthetics takes precedence now. I hope that is not the case, because it would indicate to me a troubling level of hubris within the leadership of the company. That is far more dangerous than one feature on one device.
What do you think about Touch ID? Do you feel it should be included on the next iPhone at all costs, or that Apple should move on to a rumored new 3D facial recognition standard? Let me know what you think in the Comments section below, on Flipboard, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter @iPadInsightBlog.