Report: This year’s iPhones may have in-screen Touch ID

January 18, 2021 by No Comments

Enlarge / The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro. The next iPhones aren’t expected to change looks very much.

Samuel Axon

This weekend, business publication Bloomberg ran a plethora of articles sharing details about various upcoming Apple products. We previously covered what Bloomberg’s sources said about the Mac lineup, but another report details upcoming iPhones.

According to “a person familiar with” Apple’s work, the 2021 iPhone will be a small, iterative update and may carry the “S” label, which Apple has used to denote smaller upgrades to the iPhone in the past (for example, iPhone 6S or iPhone XS). This is in part because the iPhone 12 lineup introduced last fall was particularly loaded with new features and design changes, but it was also because COVID-19 restrictions have slowed Apple’s engineers down, according to the report.

While the iPhone 13 wouldn’t have a radically new design, the report does describe one potential change of note that Apple is testing internally: the addition of an in-screen fingerprint reader.

In 2017, Apple introduced Face ID, a facial recognition authentication alternative to the fingerprint reader tech (Touch ID) that it had used in prior iPhones. The first generation of Face ID was a little slower and less consistent than Touch ID, but subsequent updates brought it up to par, and most users came to accept or appreciate the new method.

However, some people still prefer unlocking their phones with a fingerprint, and the need to wear masks during the pandemic has made logging in via face recognition far less attractive, even though Apple released a small update for iPhones to make the process of circumventing Face ID when wearing a mask a little snappier. Some competing Android phones already offer in-screen fingerprint readers.

This change would herald the return of Touch ID to flagship iPhones. In the current lineup, it’s only present in the low-cost iPhone SE model. Touch ID itself was introduced in an “S” update: the iPhone 5S was the first to include the technology. And like Face ID, it took iteration to improve Touch ID’s efficiency after it was first introduced.

Staying true to TrueDepth

Apple has no plans to axe the TrueDepth sensor array that facilitates Face ID, however, even if it does introduce in-screen Touch ID. This is because the array also assists with key photography and augmented reality features.

Bloomberg’s sources also say that Apple is “discussing” the removal of the iPhone’s physical charging port, since last year’s iPhones introduced MagSafe wireless chargers. But just because the company is discussing that as a possibility doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing.

Also to that effect, the report claims that Apple is actively testing folding iPhone designs, though these are not sure to come to market, and if they do, it will likely be a few years in the future. Don’t be surprised that Apple is at least testing foldables; the Android smartphone market has seen a few foldable phones, though we have generally found them to be compromised or poor user experiences. As with the removal of the charging port, the fact that Apple is testing this feature does not mean it will actually happen.

Finally, the report claims that Apple will finally release AirTags, its augmented reality Tile competitor. Bloomberg says that product was the only one Apple intended to ship by the end of 2020 that didn’t make it out the door.

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