How could an iPhone work without a home button? We now have some idea.
Apple is widely suspected to unveil three new iPhones at a September event: the iPhone 7S, iPhone 7S Plus, and the highly anticipated iPhone 8. All rumors point to the latter being a radical redesign of the device—one that includes and edge-to-edge screen with very thin bezels, which would mean the home button, a fundamental of iPhone design since the first model debuted in 2007, is going away.
A new report from Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, who has historically been one of the most reliable Apple reporters, reveals at least one possible way the iPhone 8 will make up for the lack of a home button. Apple is said to be testing multiple solutions, including one that is entirely gesture-based, meaning the user would return to the home screen by swiping with a finger in a specific way.
Here’s how it would work. The bottom of the iPhone 8’s display will show a thin bar. It’s unclear from the report whether the bar would be present just on the lock screen or at all times, but swiping up “opens the phone,” presumably calling up the keypad for a passcode or whatever biometric security is in the iPhone 8 (it’s rumored to be face recognition and possibly Touch ID if Apple can find a place for the fingerprint sensor without a home button).
Once the phone is unlocked, swiping up a little will open up the App Switcher for multitasking (currently called up by a double click on the home button), and swiping up a lot will bring the user all the way back to the home screen, punctuated by an animation that shrinks the active app back into its icon. The App Switcher has been redesigned, too, and it’ll look like a grid of active windows instead of stacked cards, like it is now (similar to what Android did in Nougat).
So many questions! What happens to Control Center, which has become one of the most important parts of the iPhone UI since its introduction in iOS 7? Every current iPhone owner knows that swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up quick controls for wireless connections, the flashlight, and more. Moving that, or creating an extra step to get to it, would be a big change.
What about reachability? The report says the iPhone 8 will have symmetrical bezels on all sides, with a “notch” on the top for the earpiece, sensors, and cameras, allowing for a display that’s even bigger than the 5.5-inch screen on the iPhone Plus models. That means having a way to slide the display halfway down—currently achieved by double-tapping the home button—is more important than ever.
I could go on. Even tiny details, like which home screen to bring the user back to, which now seems unclear if returning to the home screen necessitates an animation that involves the current app’s icon, could be up in the air. When the Mashable Tech team tackled this issue in our iPhone 2020 project, we quickly ran up against the many UI problems that manifest when the physical home button goes away.
Gurman also reveals a few more details about the hardware: The display has rounded corners, but it doesn’t have curved sides a la the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8. The power button on the right side is physically longer to make it easier to press. The overall footprint is closer to the iPhone 7 than the iPhone 7 Plus.
The aspect ratio of the screen is taller than the current iPhones, too, allowing for six rows of apps, or 24 icons per home page. There’s still a dock of four persistent apps on the bottom, but it looks more like the new iPad dock in iOS 11.
The notch up top means the status bar at the top of the display is split into two areas, which some Apple employees apparently call “ears.” The current time, which currently resides in the center of the status bar, has been relocated to the left side, and wireless connection status (Wi-Fi, cellular) moves to the right. That status bar would also change based on the current task, since space is more limited.
The front and back of the iPhone 8 are rumored to both be glass, but the report says there will be a steel band along the edge that functions as an antenna.
The report cautions that it could only say Apple has “tested” the new gesture controls and that it’s likely one of multiple solutions for making up for the lack of a home button. But so far it’s the most detailed report we’ve seen so far of exactly how the iPhone 8 will actually work.
Update 8/30/17, 11:20 a.m.: Within a few hours of the Bloomberg report, another prominent iPhone 8 leaker, Guilherme Rambo, tweeted out a video rendering of how an iPad Pro-like dock would look on the iPhone 8. Rambo says it’s in the iOS 11 beta, disabled by default, but that he got it to work by changing some “hidden” settings.
This is what the floating dock looks like on an iPhone pic.twitter.com/BbKVIL7yO8
— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) August 30, 2017