An intriguing video appeared on the Chinese social network Weibo today. It shows a man wearing one rubber glove feeding an Apple-branded device into a machine and then touching the Apple logo with his ungloved index finger. When he does, code scampers across a display at his work station. Is this our first peek at the new TouchID sensor on the iPhone? I don’t know. Do I want this mystery device that might not even exist? Yep.
We’re getting frightfully close to iPhone Day 2017, a momentous event that marks the tenth anniversary of the original Apple pocket computer (which technically launched June 29, 2007). It feels more or less certain that we’ll see a Tenth Anniversary Edition of the device, perhaps humbly named iPhone 8. It’s also likely that we’ll see an upgrade to the existing model in the form of an iPhone 7S lineup. But that’s not an iPhone 7 in that Weibo video. It’s something totally weird and new.
Let’s get one thing straight: we don’t know if this video really shows a new iPhone getting tested. We don’t even know if that’s the new iPhone. It certainly resembles every other example of the rumored Anniversary iPhone. Aside from those visual cues, the only measly clues we have about its authenticity is a geotag for Kumamoto Technology, where Sony makes sensors, including some iPhone camera sensors (possibly).
Now let’s talk about what we’re actually seeing in the video. What’s most noticeably weird about the mystery phone is that the Apple logo on the back of the device appears to house a fingerprint reader. We can guess that this iPhone from the future houses the TouchID sensor inside of that familiar apple shape, which is sort of neat since that logo was always just a decoration and a reminder that you paid too much money for an excellent piece of hardware.
Rear placement of the TouchID sensor would also confirm the widely accepted rumor that Apple is going to remove it front the front of its newly redesigned iPhone—which will likely be all screen. The bezel-free design would leave no room for a physical Home button, which has always been where the TouchID sensor lived. And again, this all-over screen design is a pretty sure bet. Icons showing a bezel-free iPhone appeared in the firmware for Apple’s HomePod, which leaked late last month and references to a full-screen iPhone have also been spotted in the latest iOS 11 beta:
So where’s that TouchID sensor gonna go? That’s what everybody’s been wondering for months now. Initially, everyone assumed that Apple would be embedding the fingerprint reader into the display itself so that users wouldn’t need to change their habits. Apple even patented a method for reading fingerprints through a screen, without the need for a dedicated sensor. But later reports claimed that Apple couldn’t figure out how to manufacture enough of these newfangled displays in time for the new device’s announcement in September.
Meanwhile, Apple also secured a patent on a fingerprint reader that’s integrated into the device’s power button. This lent credence to rumors that Apple is going to make the power button slightly bigger on the iPhone 8. Placing TouchID on the power button would also make for an easy two-factor authentication method since Apple is also expected to launch a facial recognition feature. People are calling it FaceID, and it’s supposed to be awesome. Just imagine picking up your phone and tapping the power button to unlock it. The power button scans your fingerprint, then the FaceID system confirms that your face is looking at the device. Seems very secure and futuristic!
But then there’s the third way, what I’m calling the butt sensor since it’s on the phone’s rear side. Several companies, including big bad Apple competitor Samsung, have opted to move the fingerprint sensor to the rear of the phone in order to allow for more screen space on the front. Sure, it requires changing one’s phone opening behavior slightly. Then again, we had to do the same thing when device makers started putting fingerprint scanners on the front of our phones. The idea that this new leaked video shows—that Apple would put the TouchID sensor inside its own logo—it makes sense. This way, Apple doesn’t really have to make major changes to the phone’s overall design, like adding an ugly little box next to the camera as the Samsung Galaxy S8 did. The Apple logo has always been sitting there, as unused real estate.
A butt sensor isn’t the perfect solution to Apple’s TouchID problem, but it’s a solution at a time when Apple really needs a solution. If FaceID does launch with the iPhone 8, there’s a chance some Apple users won’t want to use it. (People get clammy about facial recognition technology.) Meanwhile, there’s also a good chance that the power button technology, like the display-based fingerprint reader, isn’t ready for primetime, since Apple only got the patent two months ago. That leaves Apple with one very obvious choice: put TouchID on the back of the phone.
And you know what? I like it. There’s something sort of charming about the Apple logo scanning my body for signs of recognition. I’m sure I can get used to touching my fingerprint on the back of the device instead of the front. If I don’t, I’m happy to surrender the details of my face to Apple in order to enjoy a more seamless and enjoyable iPhone experience. At the end of the day, I’m probably going to buy the iPhone 8 regardless of its individual quirks. That’s on me. But if the mysterious video from China really does show the new iPhone, I think I’d be very happy with that purchase.