iPhone silly season and the elimination of Touch ID

We’re homing in on a likely fall iPhone rollout and the rumors are flying. John Gruber, from a piece titled iPhone silly season:

With software Apple can (and does) play a bit fast and loose. iOS 11.0 won’t be baked until late August. But software can (and always is) patched. Hardware doesn’t work like that. Many of the decisions related to the hardware on this year’s new iPhones were made two years ago. (And there are decisions being made now for 2019’s new iPhones.)

Is there a 3D laser sensor on the back of the new iPhone? Is there a Touch ID sensor? I don’t know. But Apple knows, and has known for a while. Months, even.


If the new iPhone ships without a Touch ID sensor and there is no replacement authentication technology that is as good or better than Touch ID — that would be a dead canary in the coal mine.

From this Bloomberg piece by Mark Gurman:

For its redesigned iPhone, set to go on sale later this year, Apple is testing an improved security system that allows users to log in, authenticate payments, and launch secure apps by scanning their face, according to people familiar with the product. This is powered by a new 3-D sensor, added the people, who asked not to be identified discussing technology that’s still in development. The company is also testing eye scanning to augment the system, one of the people said.

A move to add 3D face scanning is one thing. A move away from Touch ID is another thing entirely. Apple proved they are willing to (have the “Courage” to?) make a major hardware shift, forcibly doing away with one technology (the 3.5 mm headphone jack) to usher in a newer technology (Bluetooth headphones).

Will this be the case with Touch ID? As John Gruber says, that decision has likely already been made.

My two cents? “As good or better than Touch ID” has to address accessibility. If I am visually impaired, I can unlock my iPhone with my finger in the dark. An edge case, certainly, but one that is a bit of a litmus test for any Touch ID replacement.

In a low light environment, will I be able to unlock my iPhone with a facial scan? If I am in a meeting, I can subtly unlock my iPhone with my finger. Will I have to hold my next generation iPhone in front of my face to accomplish the same thing?

As John says, that would be a dead canary in the coal mine.

UPDATE: The new system is said to include an infrared camera and low angle support (hat tip to Rene Ritchie), which would solve the low light and hold the phone in front of my face scenarios. Other use cases include unlocking the phone while driving (say, to take a look at your map) and the mechanic of approving an Apple Pay purchase. All of these seem legitimately solvable if the underlying tech works as rumored. This is yet another opportunity for yet another magical Apple experience.