Back in 2007, the hype around Apple's new phone was all about the keyboard — or lack thereof.
"In fact, some experts think the days of the telephone keypad are numbered," NPR's Laura Sydell wrote in advance of the release of the very first iPhone by Steve Jobs. It's fair to say, the forecast triumph of the on-screen keyboard has proved true (RIP BlackBerry Classic).
This year, the iPhone turns 10. On Tuesday, Apple will unveil the latest iteration — and this time, watchers are raising a similar question about the password: Are the days of the phone passcode numbered?
Apple's anniversary smartphone, expected to be called the iPhone X, is anticipated to include a facial-recognition technology that would unlock the phone by scanning and recognizing the user's face. This is expected to replace the now-it-works-now-it-doesn't Touch ID feature on the latest phones that unlocks the devices by scanning users' fingerprints.
The face-scanning technology would be one of several hyped elements of the iPhone X, slated to be Apple's fanciest handheld yet, potentially priced at $1,000. (This comes on the heels of Samsung's release of the Galaxy Note 8 priced up to $960.)
Its release is an important mile marker for the company. Apple made its name as a design visionary and a bold innovator (think a phone without a headphone jack) and now faces increased pressure to continue to revolutionize the device and make money selling it.
Judging by leaks of the plan, iPhone X is likely to represent the first major redesign of an iPhone in several years. It's expected to expand the screen to the furthest edges of the device and, most notably, do away with the home button.
The home button has marked the bottom of the iPhone screen since the very beginning. Experts say its disappearance will be the biggest change of the iPhone. Instead of having this designated button, the iPhone X is expected to follow suit of Android and other devices that rely on an on-screen bar to switch between apps.
In his rapid-response "Requiem for the iPhone's Home Button," Wired writer David Pierce calls the move a "remarkable statement of confidence" by Apple, which assumes that users are comfortable enough navigating the iPhone to be taught a whole new behavior. And yet, he writes:
"But there's still something distinctly hostile about it, design and features trumping ease of use and peace of mind. Most people still don't know how to use iPhones to their full potential. ... Did you use the four-finger gesture to close apps, or the 3D-touch swipe to switch between them? Of course not. No matter Apple's pithy taglines, iPhones aren't easy or obvious to use— certainly not without a home button."
And Apple might be hedging its bets as well. On Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook is expected to present the overhauled iPhone X alongside two other, more familiar-looking devices, presumably called iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. These would represent more traditional upgrades on the current 7th generation.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
So this year marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone. And this afternoon, Apple will unveil its latest version. There are some leaked plans, and they suggest some interesting new features but also a pretty hefty price tag. NPR's Alina Selyukh has more.
ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: In 2007, Steve Jobs stood on a stage in his black turtleneck and showed the world the first iPhone. The tech world responded with awe and skepticism. The iPhone was dazzling, but it had no keyboard, so observers wondered how exactly were people's fingers going to hit those tiny screen buttons.
ROGER KAY: Although the key that you saw on the screen remained the same size, the underlying touch area grew so that you had a tendency to hit the right place.
SELYUKH: Roger Kay has been following the iPhone since the first iPhone. He's a technology analyst at the consulting firm Endpoint, and what he's saying is Apple doesn't typically bring something to market unless it works well, which is a huge deal this year because the new thing the iPhone is tackling is facial recognition.
KAY: The idea of not having a passcode or a password, having the phone just recognize you when you hold it up, that's very appealing. But the problem with facial recognition up to this point is it hasn't worked that well.
SELYUKH: Apple has been weaning its users off passcodes, first with a fingerprint scanner and now the technology to scan your face. The new iPhones are also expected to have a brighter, bigger screen pushing to the edges of the device. And Apple is expected to show a phone without the familiar home button. The idea is that people will just navigate through gestures and software. And it's slated to be the most expensive iPhone yet, priced near $1,000.
KAY: The first iPhone was truly a revolution. It looked nothing like anything that had been in the market before it. It's never going to be like that. You're never going to get something that's just starkly different from the thing that preceded it.
SELYUKH: Until we put it on our heads or something.
KAY: I was going to say in our heads is more like it.
SELYUKH: So maybe one thing is certain - when CEO Tim Cook takes the stage and shows off the new iPhone, the tech world will probably respond with awe and skepticism. Alina Selyukh, NPR News.
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