iPhone 8: Apple will swap the real home button for a virtual one in new handset, code suggests

The virtual button will be able to disappear when it's not needed – but will change the most iconic thing about an iPhone's external design

Andrew Griffin
Tuesday 01 August 2017 11:30
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Apple's home button is dead, according to hidden code.

The little circle at the bottom of the phone has been the main way of identifying Apple's handsets, at least when they're turned off. But it's about to disappear in the iPhone 8.

That's according to code that was accidentally released by Apple. Part of that includes a check on whether a device has a home button – something that was previously unrequired, since every iPhone had one.

It's possible that the reference is to other devices that run some form of iOS and don't have a home button, like the Apple TV. But the removal of the home button in the iPhone squares with other code found in the release, pictures that are also included within it, and years of rumours.

Pictures found in the code that appear to depict the new phone, for instance, show the design including some of the "forehead" that sits at the top, but none of the "chin" at the bottom that houses the button. As such, there appears to be no space for a physical home button and it will presumably be depicted on screen instead, as it is on Android.

Some had hoped that the long-rumoured removal of the home button would actually mean that it was hidden under the bottom of the screen, and that the fingerprint sensor would shine through the display. But there appears to be no such reference to a TouchID fingerprint sensor, and so it's likely that the button will be entirely virtual.

That will also mean that the button can move out of the way when it is not required, such as when people are watching videos.

Apple has been altering and perhaps preparing for the removal of the home button for years, sometimes out of sight.

With the iPhone 5s, Apple added the TouchID fingerprint sensor to the home button. That meant that Apple had to drop little white square that sat inside of the circular home button and had become one of the most recognisable parts of its design.

Then with the iPhone 7, Apple swapped a real home button that was pressed down for one that just tricked people into thinking it was. In fact, the button on the new iPhone doesn't actually go anywhere at all, and the phone just uses its very precise vibration motor to give people the feeling that they've pushed something down.

When that happened, there were widespread suggestions that the move was done to get ready for the iPhone 8 and the complete disappearance of the button.

Code found by developers including Steve Troughton-Smith and Guilherme Rambo suggest a major re-design to the phone. They and others have been picking through firmware that was apparently accidentally made available online, and includes references to many unreleased features.

They have also found suggestions that the phone will be able to track people's faces. That will apparently be used to unlock the phone, as well as to see whether people are paying attention to the screen and so change things on the display accordingly.

The firmware was actually made for Apple's upcoming HomePod smart speaker – due to be released later this year – but it included numerous references to the new phone and other hardware as well.

iPhone marks 10th anniversary

As such, the leak is probably the most certain and closest to Apple since an iPhone 4 was accidentally left in a bar and made its way onto Gizmodo's website. Tim Cook has committed to crack down on leaks through its supply chain and elsewhere – a move that has mostly worked, with far fewer leaks of the new phone than others before it – but the new information has been revealed from within Apple itself, apparently by mistake.

Apple accidentally revealed the iPhone 7 on Twitter before its launch last year. But that leak came just hours before the big event, rather than weeks.

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