Apple’s new fingerprint patent hints at a future iPhone with no home button

A button by any other name…
A button by any other name…
Image: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
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Apple has been readying itself for the home button’s demise for a while.

Between 2012 and 2014, the company acquired 26 patents from biometric security company Privaris, which specializes in integrating fingerprint readers into touch screens, CNN reported. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that on Tuesday (Oct. 4), Apple was awarded a patent for a “capacitive fingerprint sensor,” signaling a future where instead of the physical Touch ID module found on current models, iPhones have an edge-to-edge display with a virtual button performing the functions of the old home button.

Capacitive fingerprint sensor
Capacitive fingerprint sensor
Image: US Patent and Trademark Office

The patented technology will allow a device to gather accurate fingerprint readings anywhere on the display of the device. So far, this has not been possible because the image of your fingerprint gets distorted by the time it travels from the glass surface to the Touch ID sensor underneath. Apple’s latest invention would use special lenses to bridge the gap between the screen and the sensor to provide a clearer picture.

If Apple does decide to do away with the home button, it wouldn’t be an unusual move for the innovator. Most recently, there was much uproar about the decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone 7. The company has a long history of freaking out potential customers, which Quartz’s Alice Truong has outlined:

It sparked outrage initially when it removed the floppy drive from the iMac in 1998—and then it got rid of the phone jack (MacBook, MacBook Pro 2006), ethernet port (MacBook Air 2008), CD/DVD player (MacBook Air 2008), and most recently the dedicated charging port and all USB ports from its new 12-inch MacBook.

Apple did not respond to Quartz about whether or not it plans to implement the new patent in the near future.

Initially used solely to redirect people to the Apple iOS home screen, the home button has evolved to accommodate a variety of functions over the years: holding it down summons Siri, two clicks switches between apps, and the integration of Touch ID added a layer of security. With the latest iPhone 7 series, the button has already become more virtual than physical—haptic feedback sends vibrations to the user to signal that their instructions have been registered but there is no actual pressing of a button. The next-generation iPhones could incorporate the touch ID in the touchscreen itself to minimize physical buttons on the front of the device, thereby giving the makers more room to increase the size and resolution of the display without making the phones any bigger.