Matt Bolton on the new iPhone 8

When the iPhone, and the smart­phone mar­ket in gen­eral, was young and grow­ing, all we ever ex­pected from every new phone was more fea­tures. In the years when phones were ex­plod­ing (but be­fore Sam­sung’s were lit­er­ally ex­plod­ing), any com­pany that took its foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor pedal for adding new giz­mos for even a sec­ond was leav­ing a gap for com­peti­tors to over­take it – and re­mov­ing a fea­ture was ef­fec­tively un­heard of, for the same rea­son. Even Ap­ple, with all its mar­ket­ing might, wasn’t im­mune to this dan­ger. This volatil­ity is what hap­pens with new tech – the clos­est equiv­a­lent right now is smart home gear, where big names one year be­come also rans faster than you can con­nect them to your Ama­zon Echo.

But that’s not the case in the phone mar­ket any more. It’s a ma­ture mar­ket, and the fear off be­ing sud­denly over­taken has died off. Six years ago, sell­ing an ex­plod­ing phone would have killed Sam­sung’s fu­ture hopes. But in a ma­ture mar­ket, where cus­tomers have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and trust in its prod­ucts be­fore they started spon­ta­neously com­bust­ing, that in­ci­dent seems to be just a blip for Sam­sung.

Sim­i­larly, Ap­ple now seems con­fi­dent it can do what Ap­ple does best with ma­ture, sta­ble prod­ucts: start trim­ming the fat. It started with the head­phone jack in the iPhone 7, and in the coming iPhone 8 we’re ru­moured to be los­ing the Home but­ton and Touch ID sen­sor, in favour of us­ing 3D face and/or iris scans for se­cu­rity.

(I don’t count the switch from 30-pin to Light­ning as los­ing some­thing, be­cause that was more grow­ing pain than any­thing. It just wasn’t fit for pur­pose any more, and was re­placed with a su­pe­rior op­tion. The head­phone jack was re­placed by noth­ing ex­cept an ex­tra adapter.)

As­sum­ing the Touch ID ru­mours come to pass, lots of peo­ple will be ex­tremely un­happy with the changes, but this won’t faze Ap­ple. It’s been through the story be­fore with

Peo­ple will be un­happy, but Ap­ple’s used to that by now…

the Mac sev­eral times, as that has evolved as a ma­ture prod­uct.

That said, if los­ing the head­phone jack was like drop­ping op­ti­cal drives – a tech­nol­ogy that ev­ery­one had used, but that a sur­pris­ing num­ber of us could move on from pretty seam­lessly – los­ing Touch ID and get­ting fa­cial recog­ni­tion se­cu­rity is more like swap­ping all the MacBook Pro’s ports for USB-C. Even if we ac­cept the su­pe­ri­or­ity of the new tech (and that’s very much a “be­lieve it when I see it” thing when it comes to fa­cial recog­ni­tion), it still comes with pain points that af­fect ev­ery­one: will it work re­li­ably in the dark, or at cer­tain an­gles?

I don’t think Ap­ple will ditch Touch ID. If fa­cial or iris recog­ni­tion is there, I think it’ll be for cer­tain things only, and maybe Touch ID will move. But that we’re talking about it as a re­al­is­tic op­tion at all shows how far the iPhone has come. It’s no longer a work-in­progress: it’s ready to be edited down.


Matt is the editor of Fu­ture’s flag­ship tech­nol­ogy mag­a­zine T3 and has been chart­ing changes at Ap­ple since his stu­dent days. He’s scep­ti­cal of tech in­dus­try hy­per­bole, but still gets warm and fuzzy on hear­ing “one more thing”.

We’re cer­tain the iPhone 8 will lose the Home but­ton, but will it lose Touch ID too? And what’s next? How long do we think tra­di­tional phone parts will last?

The head­phone jack wasn’t re­moved to re­place with any­thing new – Ap­ple just didn’t want to have to work around it any more. C’est la vie.

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