It’s been the centrepiece for the iPhone’s operating system since its 2007 debut, but Apple may be planning to drop the Home button from future models, according to a report.
The company is reportedly developing a new chip that will allow fingerprint sensing directly from the touchscreen.
The iconic physical button that has been a feature of every iPhone to date will likely stick around for a year or two yet, with the touch and display driver integration (TDDI) technology needed to shift its functionality to the touchscreen still being developed.
The report, from Taiwanese semiconductor site DigiTimes, cites sources that say Apple will be developing the new chip in-house as it does with its CPUs, rather than buying it from a supplier.
“The TDDI single-chip solutions will also come with integrated fingerprint sensors… The integrated design would fit into future iPhone designs – models with ultra-thin and ultra-narrow displays, and with a whole plane design eliminating the Home button.”
The first ever TDDI, which allows for closer integration of the touch and display technologies, was developed this year by interface company Synaptics. The innovation was a result of the company’s aquisition of chipmaker Renesas SP Drivers, a firm that was once reportedly eyed for aquisition by Apple.
Shares in Synaptics fell 7 per cent on the news that Apple may be making its own TDDI rather than looking to buy, indicating the weight that market-watchers give to this rumour.
Cowen & Co’s Robert Stone said Apple’s decision is likely because its specific needs for a chip that can integrate fingerprint sensors into a touchscreen are beyond the capabilities of the current suppliers.
“TDDI designs are initially aimed at mid-range phones; high-end models are likely to continue to use discrete, two-chip solutions”, he told Tech Trader Daily.
“Integration of the fingerprint sensor onto the display glass requires a much higher resolution capacitive sensor than for touch … [and] would require a separate sensor that can read through a protective cover glass. None of the merchant fingerprint sensor suppliers has a display glass integrated solution available thus far.”
Many major smartphone makers have ditched physical buttons from the front of their devices, allowing for simpler, sturdier designs as well as smaller bezels and slimmer profiles.
The issue for Apple is developing a way to retain its Touch ID fingerprint recognition functionality, which along with Apple Pay has become a major selling point for its phones. A patent for touchscreens that can read fingerprints shows Apple has had an interest in the area since at least April 2014.
A solution would also need to be developed to account for the Home button’s other functions, including waking and locking the device and switching apps. Android phones commonly move waking and locking to a power button on the device’s side, or allow users to double tap the screen.
A report last month indicated Apple was looking to bring the Force Touch technology – which can tell the difference between a light touch and a stronger press – from its Apple Watch to the iPhone.
Such functionality could be integrated to allow new gestures for locking, waking and multitasking, and combined with fingerprint sensing would effectively make for a virtual home button anywhere on the screen.
[“source – stuff.co.nz”]