It’s looking like this year we may finally see the culmination of the work that Apple has long been putting into in-display fingerprint sensors, with reports that the technology is already undergoing testing in the hopes of including it in this year’s iPhone.
The news comes from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, who also confirms the recent report by Jon Prosser that Apple is ramping up its efforts to develop an iPhone with a foldable screen, although by the most hopeful estimations, that’s not going to happen until 2022, although Gurman isn’t even that optimistic, suggesting that it’s “likely years away or ultimately may never be introduced.”
For this year, however Gurman echoes the sentiments expressed by others that this won’t be a year of any major design changes, and in fact, he goes so far as to suggest that the 2021 iPhone may actually be the “iPhone 12S” rather than the “iPhone 13,” marking a return by Apple to the trend of releasing “S” models in between major design changes.
The last time Apple did this at all was with the iPhone XS lineup, however this changed the landscape significantly as only a single iPhone X had come before, while the iPhone XS was accompanied by the larger iPhone XS Max and the more affordable iPhone XR.
Before that, however, the “S” models were almost always about preserving the same physical designs and focusing instead on adding new hardware specs and features.
The ‘iPhone 12S’
Arguably, the reason we’re dealing with the iPhone 12 now instead of the “iPhone 11S” is likely because Apple chose to develop an entirely new design, and therefore it needed a new number to go along with it.
The only other time Apple has skipped “S” models was with the transition from the iPhone 7 to the iPhone 8, and that was definitely more about marketing than anything else, since for all intents and purposes, the iPhone 8 really was just an “iPhone 7S” but Apple clearly didn’t want to release it as such alongside the revolutionary new iPhone X.
While the iPhone 4 was an entirely new glass design from its plastic predecessor, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from the iPhone 4S that succeeded it. Ditto for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s. However, what these “S” models added were groundbreaking new features apart from the design — the iPhone 4S brought us Siri, and the iPhone 5s brought us Touch ID.
Now, if this latest report is correct, this year could very well see that kind of history repeating itself, with the iPhone 12S poised to bring back Touch ID in the form of the long-rumoured in-display fingerprint sensor.
A New iPhone 12S Feature?
According to Gurman, this would be a “key upgrade for 2021,” and Apple is already testing it in a mostly final form. However, contrary to some earlier rumours about Apple’s plans for an in-display fingerprint sensor, this wouldn’t replace Face ID, but instead it would supplement it with an alternative unlocking method.
Some have suggested that a move to an in-display fingerprint sensor would allow Apple to reduce production costs and create a more inexpensive iPhone for certain markets, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the in-display fingerprint sensor technology likely doesn’t come cheap.
Further, Apple has already found a way to address a lower-cost Touch ID design in last year’s 11-inch iPad Air by using a physical Touch ID sensor in the side sleep/wake button.
Instead, the idea would be to allow Touch ID to be used in environments where facial recognition simply can’t be used, most commonly where people are wearing masks — a problem that will still be faced by medical professionals and other workers in certain industries even long after the current health crisis has ended.
It’s also important to remember that the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone is used for much more than just Face ID, so it’s unlikely that Apple would remove that component entirely, and as long as it’s there anyway, there’s really no reason to eliminate Face ID support.
Notably, veteran Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo also predicted back in mid-2019 that a 2021 iPhone model would include both Face ID and Touch ID, suggesting that the two were never mutually exclusive, and Apple could only gain from providing users with more options. However, this also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Touch ID coming to the iPhone SE in a more traditional way.