We’ve been hearing reports for a couple of years that Apple has been working on a way to embed a Touch ID sensor into an iPhone or iPad display, and in fact as recently as last spring it sounded like the technology could have been ready to debut this year with the new iPad Air.
Sadly, however, as the release of Apple’s newest tablet approached, it became clear that an in-display Touch ID sensor wasn’t in the cards; instead, in order to eliminate the traditional bezel and home button design, Apple moved the Touch ID sensor into the side sleep/wake button.
It was an interesting approach to the problem of creating an iPad with an edge-to-edge display sans Face ID, but unfortunately, it also led some to fear that Apple had given up on working on an actual in-display Touch ID sensor, since of course this design could easily be replicated on an iPhone as well, obviating the need for more advanced — and presumably costlier — in-display fingerprint sensor technology.
Not all hope is lost, however, as a cryptic new hint from the somewhat inscrutable leaker @L0vetodream suggests that the technology is still coming to a future iPhone.
While the tweet simply reads “MESA uts for iPhone,” it’s actually not hard to grasp the meaning for anybody who follows the Apple rumour-mill.
“MESA” is the codenamed that Apple has been using for its Touch ID system since it debuted with the iPhone 5s back in 2013, and “uts” is almost certainly short for “under the screen.”
The leak doesn’t offer any insight at all as to which iPhone models could be gaining this new technology, however it does seem to imply that it would be coming to the mainstream iPhones. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and reputable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo both suggested last year that Apple has been working on developing an iPhone that would feature both Touch ID and Face ID, so it’s likely that this is what @L0vetodream is referring to.
An in-display fingerprint sensor will almost certainly be more expensive to develop and implement than the physical Touch ID sensors that Apple has already been using for years; even the smaller side-button sensor on the iPad Air is likely only marginally more costly than the standard home button sensor, especially compared to what would be required to build it into the display.
Hence this would seem to rule out in-display Touch ID coming to the next iPhone SE, since it’s much more important to Apple to keep that model affordable. Further, we’ve heard reports that there likely won’t be a new iPhone SE until at least 2022, which also seems reasonable considering Apple went four years between the first two iPhone SE generations.
On the other hand, a flagship iPhone that combines both Face ID and an in-display Touch ID sensor would make a lot of sense. As great as Face ID is, there are situations where it just can’t be used, as current circumstances have especially proven.
An in-display Touch ID sensor would provide a useful alternative to that, as well as making it even easier for things like Apple Pay, where many users just prefer the ability to wave their iPhone over a payment terminal without having to look at it to unlock it with Face ID first.
While Apple could easily choose to add Face ID into the side button, much like it’s done on the new iPad Air, there are advantages to putting it directly into the display, as this would likely make servicing and repairs simpler — the sleep/wake button wouldn’t have to be an expensive fingerprint sensor — and would also avoid accidental payments that could occur when making in-app purchases, which currently require a double-click of the side button and Face ID authentication to approve.