Like any iPhone generation before it, the iPhone 6s has one trademark feature that sets it apart from anything Apple did before. This particular feature is called 3D Touch, a unique display that uses an array of sensors under the glass and a vibrating motor to tell the difference between taps and touches. 3D Touch enables Peeks, Pops, and Quick Actions – read more about how they work here – but there’s one particular trick that suggests the iPhone 7 could be a radically redesigned device.
Shown on stage during the event around the 96:50 mark (see the video on Apple.com), and inconspicuously listed on Apple’s iPhone 6s web pages, the feature is actually very important for the new iPhone as it lets you partially replace the functionality of an iconic iPhone element: the Home button.
For years, people asked Apple to expand the screen and ditch the Home button like some Android device makers did. Apple stubbornly stuck to the physical button that’s needed to switch between apps and return to the Home screen, and even upgraded it in 2013 with fingerprint-reading abilities. That seemed to be the final confirmation that the Home button would never go away, as the Touch ID fingerprint sensor needed a place to live in.
Curiously though, Apple filed patents that describe attractive iPhone designs that feature no physical buttons, and that have wraparound displays, suggesting that it’s studying such devices for the future.
But how can Apple increase the display of the iPhone, remove the Home button and perhaps other physical buttons and still keep Touch ID in the picture – especially since the latter is now tied to your wallet?
At around 96:50 in the video, Craig Federighi demos a 3D Touch feature called the Quick Action that’s related to multitasking (see previous image).
With a press on the screen of the iPhone 6s, you’ll be able to switch between apps just as you would do by pressing the Home button twice. It’s multitasking between apps “quicker than ever” as Apple puts it.
It’s a neat trick, but it’s also a feature that does one of the five things the Home button can do. In addition to multitasking (double press), the Home button lets you exit any app and return to the Home screen (with a press), enables Reachability (with a double tap), brings up Siri (with a long press) and offers Touch ID fingerprint support in apps (with a touch and hold). As for Siri, the voice assistant is always-on now, so you don’t need a physical button to call it up.
The one remaining hurdle that might prevent Apple from ditching the Home button is the fingerprint sensor, which still needs a proper housing. As soon as Apple’s design and engineering teams figure that out, the Home button could be forever replaced with a new type of display that registers touch pressure and reads fingerprints.
Removing the physical button would let Apple further increase the screen of the iPhone without increasing its overall size – or even shrink the iPhone overall size to accommodate the same-size display.
While rumors and patents indicate that Apple is indeed working on such iPhone technology for the future, it’s not clear when such a massive redesign would only arrive.