Have you ever noticed how our vision of the future tends to drag along elements of the present? In classic Star Trek the women were subservient, wore miniskirts, and computers had tapes and memory banks.
What about iPhones of the future? Here’s what I think is on the way and it will be far simpler than we imagine now. Apple simplified the smartphone by eliminating the complexity and made navigation and usage as simple as point and touch. What’s better than that?
Wherefore Art Thou, Buttons?
Take a look at your iPhone today. What do you see? A slender handheld device with a large screen. What else? A slim ring around the screen, right? What else? Holes and buttons. Lots of holes and buttons.
There’s a Mute button. A couple of alert volume buttons. The ominous omnipresent Home button. The required Power button. And the holes; oh my, the holes. Microphone, speaker, Lightning connector, audio and mic connector.
In my world of the future all those buttons and holes disappear and the iPhone becomes little more than a handheld screen.
One of Apple’s major suppliers has started the parade toward an iPhone with little more than screen and case by developing an under-glass fingerprint sensor module. Think Touch ID fingerprint sensor but not on the Home button; on the screen.
That’s the first step in plugging holes and eliminating buttons on future iPhones, but let’s take that step farther on down the road.
How about an iPhone that is just a screen and a case? No, we won’t see it in iPhone 7 because that’s too much of a jump into the future but you can see where this is going. First, no Home button with Touch ID. It’ll be under the screen and still work the way you expect. Second, Apple will move the Mute (Ring/Silent button) and the Volume up/down buttons to the screen’s control panel. That’s three buttons gone. The 3.5mm headphone jack connector is rumored to disappear into the Lightning connector, perhaps with iPhone 7 or 7s and that leaves the speaker and microphones on the bottom of the iPhone as external vestiges of the 20th century.
What about the power button? Everything needs a power button, right? Apple calls it the On/Off Sleep/Wake button. Sorry. That’s so 1999. I envision an iPhone in a few years that never fully truly turns off. When powered down, simply touch the Touch ID location on the iPhone’s screen, and it powers up. What if power is completely depleted? Do what we do now and plug in the lightning connector to recharge.
Removing all those buttons will help to keep future iPhones lighter, easier to manufacture, simpler to use, and, importantly, help to improve waterproof designs. Plus, there’s the added benefit of what amounts to a larger screen on a device that is roughly the same size as current iPhones.
Predictions of the future are fraught with vestiges from the past. Apple’s designers and engineers seem to have a sense about how to get to the future in appropriate steps; not enough to scare us away from the future, but not too far from the past, either.
Next steps? Goodbye Home button, hello screen buttons.