KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is the most high-profile iPhone prognosticator on the planet. Able to tap deeply into Apple’s Asian supply chain, Kuo has a pretty remarkable track record for often being — if not right — very close to the mark when he issues predictions about the next products coming out of Cupertino. (One semi-arbitrary analysis had him at being correct nearly half the time; even when he was incorrect, he rarely completely whiffed on his prediction.)
Which is why everyone is raising eyebrows at his prediction yesterday that Apple’s upcoming OLED flagship phone, the iPhone 8, won’t have a fingerprint scanner. The reason? Apple hasn’t been able to produce the tech needed to place a fingerprint scanner underneath the Apple 8’s screen, and there won’t be a physical home button to take its place. Qualcomm recently unveiled tech that would allow for on-screen fingerprint scanning, but it’s still slow and is unlikely to be rolled out in mass numbers for a while.
Of course, a fair number of phones have recently shrunk down their bezels, including Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and LG’s V20, and stuck a fingerprint scanner on the back, to mixed success. (Samsung’s isn’t great; LG’s is better.) But Kuo says Apple is not going to place a fingerprint scanner on the back of the iPhone 8 (or on the power button). Instead, it will simply forgo one altogether, instead using front-facing, depth-sensing tech together with facial-recognition software as a biometric way of logging users in without a PIN number.
Kuo may have a good batting average … but this seems like a bit of a stretch. Apple might need to skip the on-screen fingerprint scanner, but it seems likely that they would simply move it to the back of the phone instead. It’s not as elegant, but people have grown very accustomed to unlocking their phone with their fingerprints. And while Apple may have made some leaps forward in facial recognition, my experience is that the tech (as implemented in other phones and laptops) isn’t fully baked: If your hair is too long, you’re wearing glasses, or you simply look at your phone from the wrong angle, it won’t work. Not to mention that it feels odd to hold your phone in front of you like you’re taking a selfie every time you want to unlock your phone.
Beyond that, people now use their fingerprints for banking, authorizing App Store purchases, and — most important for Apple — activating Apple Pay. While Apple Pay adoption rates are still low, Apple shows no signs of wanting to slow down on promoting it. (For example, iOS 11 Messages allows you to text money to friends using Apple Pay.) The payment system is already struggling in the U.S.; making people looking deeply into their own phones before ordering a McChicken sandwich isn’t going to help that trend.
It’s entirely possible — likely, even — that Apple simply won’t have enough time to gets its on-screen fingerprint reader ready, even if that is what the designers in Cupertino would prefer. Apple seems to already be scrambling to make enough units available (whatever ends up happening, be ready to preorder or wait), and if the tech isn’t ready, the company may have to hold off until the iPhone 8S to get the fingerprint scanner of its dreams in place. But I’d be willing to bet ten-to-one that the iPhone 8 that will be unveiled this September will have some kind of fingerprint scanner on it. It’s just that no one seems quite sure where.
(Top image courtesy iDropNews.)