Notch

An irregular notch with slimmer bezels. Or a straight line with thicker bezels. I think I’ll go with the straight line.

I like straight.

All of those sensors to make Face ID work need to be put somewhere around that area where the front-facing camera is located. Apple decided to make the transition to a more secure authentication method, from Touch ID to Face ID, hence the notch. Although I don’t think it was necessarily an either-or decision. Apple could have kept Touch ID and added Face ID.

Imagine thinner but straight bezels on top and on the bottom with both the familiar home button (Touch ID) and the new Face ID. I’d think with the two combined it would be an exponentially more secure authentication method.

But that would have gotten in the way of the slimmer bezel design. I have issues with really slim bezels (read: iPhone 7s) but Apple, along with Samsung, LG, and a bunch of other smartphone brands, seem to think we all want slimmer bezels. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like thick bezels (read: Sony Xperia XZ Premium). But I don’t want super-thin bezels either, especially on top and on the bottom. What I want are thick-enough bezels to securely and comfortably hold my phone. I think LG and Samsung did the right thing: slightly thicker bezels for the forehead and the chin.

The screens on the V30, the S8, and Note 8 are nice and straight, too. No weird-looking notch. And just because many of us might some day get used to a weird-looking notch doesn’t make the notch not weird looking.

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus look good, but man, no headphone jack though.

Privacy, Security, and Apple

[ TechCrunch / Matthew Panzarino ] Apple is the only company I trust to keep my privacy and security as high a priority as building a great product. That’s because to Apple it’s the same thing. At least that’s how I think about Apple. Is Apple perfect? No. I would have preferred a more secure authentication method: an iPhone 7s with Face ID and Touch ID. But there’s no turning back time; Apple has built the iPhone 8 and the iPhone X. So let’s get on with figuring out what we can about Face ID.

Matthew Panzarino asks questions about Face ID and Craig Federighi answers them:

When it comes to customers — users — Apple gathers absolutely nothing itself. Federighi was very explicit on this point.

“We do not gather customer data when you enroll in Face ID, it stays on your device, we do not send it to the cloud for training data,” he notes.

There is an adaptive feature of Face ID that allows it to continue to recognize your changing face as you change hair styles, grow a beard or have plastic surgery. This adaptation is done completely on device by applying re-training and deep learning in the redesigned Secure Enclave. None of that training or re-training is done in Apple’s cloud. And Apple has stated that it will not give access to that data to anyone, for any price.

Apple couldn’t, even if it was forced to by law enforcement. Your Face ID data is never in Apple’s hands. Face ID data is a mathematical model stored in the Secure Enclave. Your face cannot be reverse-engineered even if Apple or anyone else accessed that mathematical model, not that Apple or anyone else can. The only place where your Face ID exists and will continue to exist is the Secure Enclave in your iPhone X. Until you reset your phone, of course.

What if law enforcement whether at the airport, border crossing, or when you’re taking photos demands you turn over your iPhone? Squeeze. Federighi explains all you have to do is press the volume button — either one — and the power button at the same time. This squeeze disables Face ID and forces you to use your passcode to unlock your iPhone X. As far as US law is concerned law enforcement can force you to unlock your iPhone using your fingerprint and most likely your face, but not your passcode.

Face ID will most likely become the de facto authentication standard for all Apple products. I expect to see most of Apple’s product lines that have an embedded display — iMac, MacBook, iPhone, iPad — to shift toward Face ID. (I think it might be a while for Apple Watch to get it though.) I also have a sneaky suspicion the notch design will be tagging along in all future iPhones and iPads. Thankfully MacBooks and iMacs have big enough top bezels to fit all the sensors required to make Face ID work.

iPhone 8 Design: New Home Button / Touch ID Location

Sonny Dickson tweeted a photo of what looks like a schematic of the new iPhone, which I will refer to as iPhone 8, specifically the largest most premium 5.8-inch iPhone 8, in this article. The supposed iPhone 8 schematic shows a couple of different design elements from iPhone 7s.

NEW DESIGN

There are two cutouts that are of particular interest. One is related to the camera: the two-lens cutout and LED flash are aligned vertically. Not such a big deal in my opinion, but I wonder if there are any advantages of positioning the two lenses vertically when it comes to machine learning-based bokeh generation.

The other cutout that peaks my interest is round, and underneath the Apple logo. That round cutout seems to be located right in the middle, height wise and width wise, of the back of iPhone 8. If the schematic is real, and that’s a big if, and if that cutout is for the home button / Touch ID, Apple is embarking on a wholely new home button / Touch ID user experience significantly different from all previous generations of iPhones.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing things differently, as long as the user experience doesn’t suffer too much for too long. And you don’t want to change too many things all at once. Regarding iPhone users many of us are still struggling to get used to not having a 3.5-mm audio jack. We get dongles; we get Bluetooth earphones, but none are as simple as connecting a set of headphones we already have. We all get used to new things but when we are used to doing something a certain way the new can get frustrating because it requires change in our thoughts and actions, both of which can take considerable time and effort. For some of us change comes easy, but for others change can be frustrating.

 

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Apple iPhone 7 Plus

Our productivity takes a dive in the short term too, but if the new thing is designed better than the old thing productivity should eventually improve to a level unreachable before the new thing. Maybe the new home button location on the back is such a new thing. Maybe not. But ergonomically it makes sense to me: when we hold our smartphones our index fingers whether left or right naturally and automatically nestles into about where the cutout is shown in the schematic.

Or perhaps Apple is separating the home button and Touch ID. Keep the home button in the front and move Touch ID to the back. The home button can be both touch and force sensitive while Touch ID simply reads fingerprints. There are times when I want to press only the home button without activating Touch ID. This need is somewhat mitigated by a new feature that automatically turns on the display when iPhone thinks I want to take a look at the screen; it’s a nice feature borrowed from Apple Watch. Separating Touch ID from the home button could be one explanation for the rear circular cutout. But the only sure thing is that we will have to wait and see.

OLED

Let’s assume Apple is transitioning away from IPS LCDs to OLED displays on its next iPhones. It might seem Apple doesn’t have a lot of experience with integrating OLED displays into devices, but that’s not completely the case. Apple Watch uses an OLED display and so does the 2016 TouchBar-equipped MacBook Pro. Granted they are not smartphone OLED displays. So Apple has some experience, but not as much as say Samsung. Another area where Apple doesn’t have a lot of experience is working with Samsung’s display team in developing new technology and solutions. When it comes to displays Apple has worked mostly with LG Display to push the envelope further. Again, assuming Apple is going OLED in the next iPhone or one of the next iPhones, the question then becomes: Is Apple having difficulties integrating fingerprint sensing and force sensing into/onto the OLED display? Looks like it.

Apple has patents when it comes to this. Back in October of 2016, AppleInsider reported Apple was awarded a patent that allows fingerprint sensing through displays: US Patent No. 9,460,332. The patent if successfully implemented can replace the physical home button with a virtual one. Perhaps Apple is experiencing technical challenges with integrating a virtual Touch ID that also senses force. Earlier in 2016 Apple was also granted US Patent No. 20060007222 for an “integrated sensing display” that “includes display elements integrated with image sensing elements” (source: The Mac Observer via DISPLAYBLOG). But patents are one thing, building real products based on those patents is another.

On April 12th of this year, AppleInsider cited analyst Timothy Arcuri of Cowen and Company stating potential yield issues for  iPhone 8’s “under-glass” fingerprint sensor solution by Apple’s in-house AuthenTec. Note: Melbourne, Florida-based AuthenTec was purchased by Apple in 2012 for US$356 million (source: Reuters). According to Arcuri Apple is unwilling to use a solution provided by a third party.

LG Innotek Under Cover Glass Fingerprint Sensor

LG Innotek Under Cover Glass Fingerprint Sensor

Apple’s AuthenTec isn’t the only company trying to develop fingerprint sensors that can work underneath the screen. LG Innotek announced in May 2016 that it developed a new fingerprint sensor that fits into a 0.01-inch (0.03 mm) space cut into the underside of a smartphone cover glass (source: The Korea Times via The Verge). A circular or rectangular fingerprint sensor button becomes unnecessary allowing for a more seamless design.

Synaptics also introduced its Natural ID FS9100 optical fingerprint sensors late last year. The FS9100 sensors can scan fingerprints through 1mm-thick cover glass. But neither solution is something Apple can use for its iPhone 8’s supposedly all-screen design.

According to The Korea Herald a South Korea-based biometric sensor company CrucialTec announced that it had patented a technology allowing the installation of a fingerprint sensor underneath a smartphone display panel:

Touch screens embedded with fingerprint sensors will allow users to authenticate their identity by simply touching the smartphone display.

This might be the solution Apple is seeking to mass manufacture, but Apple is unwilling to work with third parties for its under-the-screen Touch ID fingerprint reader; it is after all an extremely sensitive area of the iPhone.

NEW IS HARD

It takes guts, an unwillingness to accept failure, tremendous grit, etc. to do things no one has done before, even if it is merely integrating parts that already exist. The original iPhone was born through that process. I’m rooting for all the Apple engineers trying to make this happen. But even if they don’t succeed this time I’m certain a solution will be developed in the future.

As for the 5.8-inch iPhone 8 schematic with what looks like a home button cutout in the back, I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all if that means the OLED screen in the front is really seamless.