Spoiling what is arguably Apple’s last significant iPhone 8 surprise is Bloomberg’s ever reliable Mark Gurman. He states that following its dramatic redesign, the iPhone 8 will operate unlike any previous iPhone.
“Across the bottom of the screen there’s a thin, software bar in lieu of the home button,” Gurman explains. “A user can drag it up to the middle of the screen to open the phone. When inside an app, a similar gesture starts multitasking. From here, users can continue to flick upwards to close the app and go back to the home screen.”
Gurman also says that Apple will introduce new animations to help explain this fundamentally new way of navigating iOS with apps being ‘sucked back’ into their icons after they are closed with the upwards flick. Apple will change the iOS multitasking interface as well so it appears like a “series of standalone cards that can be swiped through, versus the stack of cards on current iPhones”.
And yes, you’re not alone: this all sounds a lot messier and less intuitive than just tapping or double tapping a physical home button.
For example, how good will iOS 11 be at differentiating between upward drags to open multitasking, upward flicks to close apps and upward swipes for plain old scrolling? If even one of these commands can be confused then navigation will become a nightmare, especially in less precise navigational scenarios like using an iPhone 8 one-handed while walking.
Furthermore illustrations of Gurman’s description from third party designers (examples seen by Steve Troughton-Smith below inspired by the new iPad iOS 11 dock) only seem to emphasise the potential pitfalls of this new navigation method, but it is worth remembering Apple became arguably the world’s most influential technology company precisely through its ability to revolutionise the touchscreen user interface with the original iPhone.
So should we take Gurman and his talk of drags and flicks seriously? Based on both his track record and the close proximity of this discovery to the iPhone 8 launch, I would have to say yes. It’s also worth pointing out that a thin “software bar” in iOS would waste far less space than Apple simply recreating the physical home button on-screen.
Then again there’s no doubt that this move represents another in a series of iPhone 8 gambles Apple will take. These include replacing Touch ID completely with a commercially untested Face ID facial recognition system, switching to OLED at the expense of significant production delays and opting for that aforementioned massive price rise – especially with cheaper and more familiar iPhone 7S and iPhone 7S Plus models being released at the same time.
Get it right and the iPhone 8 is likely deliver record sales and see Apple restore a technological lead it has surrendered to rivals in recent years. But get it wrong and Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone celebrations could turn very sour indeed.