One of Apple’s surprise hardware announcements last week was the relocation of the iPad Air’s fingerprint sensor to a tiny power button on top of the display. It’s a change from the typical Touch ID Home button location at the bottom of the screen, and it allows Apple to place a larger edge-to-edge display on its iPad Air for the first time. It’s also an ideal location for a fingerprint sensor, and I’d love to see it on the iPhone 12.
Apple has shifted most of its iPhone line over to Face ID in recent years, offering up a quick way to scan your face and unlock your phone. The only iPhone that doesn’t support Face ID is the iPhone SE, which still needs a large bezel to make room for the Touch ID fingerprint sensor at the bottom of the display. Face ID was fine, in the before times, but over the past six months I’ve longed for a return to Touch ID. Like many others, I’m wearing a mask every time I leave my house, meaning I always have to enter my PIN code as the mask blocks Face ID from working correctly.
Apple’s Face ID tech. Photo by Dieter Bohn / The Verge
Apple has improved the experience in software to speed up the failover to PIN entry, but Face ID has been rendered practically useless for me for months now. As the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down, I’ve missed the reliability of Touch ID. Apple’s Face ID tech also doesn’t work well when an iPhone is sitting flat on a desk and requires your attention (by default) to unlock the device.
While Apple has been rumored to be including in-screen fingerprint technology inside iPhones for months, we’ve yet to see anything materialize. Adopting the iPad’s fingerprint sensor into the iPhone’s power button would allow for Face ID, Touch ID, and a great screen, using technology the company is already comfortable with.
Apple’s new iPad Air is the first major change to Touch ID in years, and it paves the way for a similar system on the iPhone SE models and hopefully the larger iPhones that currently use Face ID.
Apple’s new Touch ID on the iPad Air. Image: Apple
Android device makers have already embedded fingerprint sensors in displays and power buttons. The in-screen variants have been hit and miss, though, with reliability issues that could have held back Apple from adopting similar technology over the past couple of years. Early in-screen sensors were slow to authenticate, but newer devices seem to have caught up. All but the newest of button sensors have had issues, too. Apple’s reputation is to only introduce new tech once it’s ready, so I’m willing to assume the iPad’s sensor is just as fast and reliable as the company claims.
Even if a new form of Touch ID doesn’t appear on the iPhone 12, there are also other parts of Apple’s new iPad Air that I’d like to see on the new iPhones. Apple’s new A14 Bionic, a 5nm chip with a six-core CPU, had a starring role at the iPad Air announcement and will undoubtedly make an appearance on the iPhone 12. Apple is promising a 40 percent performance improvement over the previous iPad Air, labeling the chip its most advanced yet.
Apple has also switched to USB-C on the iPad Air, which is a move I’m sure many of us would love to see happen on the iPhone 12. It seems increasingly unlikely that USB-C will appear on the iPhone 12, though. Despite rumors of Apple removing the in-box charger for the iPhone 12, we haven’t seen any solid suggestions there will be a move to USB-C this year. We could be waiting a long time for an iPhone with USB-C, and that’s assuming Apple doesn’t lean heavily into wireless charging advancements instead.
Apple does have a chance to shake up this year’s iPhone 12 hardware. Rumors suggest there will be a new industrial design reminiscent of the iPhone 4 and 5, with squared-off edges and stainless steel. We’ll now have to wait until October to find out just how much the iPhone 12 is truly changing this year. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for USB-C and the return of Touch ID, but I have a feeling they’re going to remain crossed for a while.