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.
ABOUT MATT BOLTON
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.