There is speculation (backed up by leaks from Chinese companies that would be involved in the manufacturing of the iPhone 7) that the next model will have a fingerprint scanner built into the screen itself.
While this would remove the need for the home button as a means of unlocking the phone it should be remembered that the home button has other functions. I’ve no doubt that if Apple wanted to do away with the home button, it could add a button on one of the edges of the phone to get around this issue.
The removal of the home button would be a good idea for sure as its absence would free up space that could be used either to reduce the length of the phone or increase the screen size (or a combination of the two).
While the presence of home button is one of iPhone’s iconic features, it is a reminder that the basic appearance of the iPhone has not fundamentally altered in nearly nine years and is definitely looking dated now.
Apple watchers must have noticed that while other tech companies like adding things, Apple likes taking things away. The goal is to make the simplest cleanest product which does the same thing.
iPhone, in its purest form, is a small screen. This screen is the most important part. But all iPhones need the screen to share the front of the device with
If the home button could be replaced with a virtual equivalent, then the chin could be reduced. Perhaps the new 3D-Touch sensor and haptic response could do away with the button altogether, and we would get lovely screen right down to the bottom of the device.
Except… TouchID. TouchID spoils that plan.
TouchID requires a non-screen area to do its magic identification. Even if the moving mechanical button goes away, we still need a chin for the sensor.
Just playing with the thought. (Please accept the fact that this answer extremely simplifies what really happens inside a device and also that all answers to this question are just guesses at this time – we are months away from the introduction of this phone).
Why need home button at all?
On an iOS device, this button is meant to interrupt processes, halt apps, get to the main menu to choose another thing you want to do. To check whether it is really you. To abort a hanging app… Most of us would agree that it serves many needed functions.
What is the difference between a real button and a software-simulated virtual button?
Just make the terms clear: a real button is a hardware-supported button, a virtual button is a software-supported button without special hardware.
This is probably sad to hear, but a virtual software button would slow down the machine and would make it less reliable. Probably not significantly, but it would.
When pressing or touching a hardware button, a hardware interrupt will be generated, so the software processes in the machine will really be interrupted. A software-simulated button cannot do this directly.
Also if an app or the OS has problems, e.g., it hangs or slows down, it might happen that the software button will not be able to respond, not process the button presses at all or only with some delay.
Not to speak about how to combine the fingerprint sensors with the screen pixels.
How to handle the case when the screen area is touched or pushed unintentionally?
When to accept the touch on the OS level and when to use the screen area just for the app running there. To interrupt processes, the button needs to run on the OS level.
I just wanted to emphasise that there are other than ‘who wants what’ or fashion aspects of this question and those are not simple to solve.
Why would we want to eliminate the present home button?
A bigger screen area with the same sized phone would be great. Everybody knows this. Because of this, it is worth considering the thought. And because of this, it will be resolved.
How could it function?
The present button could be handled similarly to a 3D touch. (The 3D touch is also processed by the hardware and not the software, this is its big advantage for our case). So, to put the button behind the screen (or over the screen) would be a real hardware solution and not a virtual button solution. (And it is a real hardware challenge.)
Apple is probably potent enough (or will be in the future) to move all the present functionality of home button onto the screen area, including finger recognition. This is just a question of time when this will happen. I am sure Apple is already working on it.