Many top Android phones have moved away from physical buttons on the front of the device, but Apple's circular home button has remained intact since the first iPhone, even gaining Touch ID fingerprint sensing capabilities on recent models.
But Apple is looking ahead to a buttonless future, claims a new report from AppleInsider, which cites a trusted source claiming that future iPhone models may have no need for the physical input. Instead, the handsets would use a built-in Touch ID sensor within the display for security, and find other ways to recreate the home button functionality.
The iPhone 7 (or 6s) will reportedly integrate the Force Touch sensor from the Apple Watch, so that could help fill some of the gaps. A quick Google Image Search shows loads of concept renders of what a buttonless iPhone could look like; the one above is from April by ConceptsiPhone.
A rumour surfaced earlier today from DigiTimes regarding touch and display driver integration (TDDI) single system-on-a-chip models being developed in-house at Apple, although AppleInsider claims that the site has had a spotty track record on Apple rumours. However, AppleInsider found its own source, which said that Apple intends to remove the iPhone home button in the future if current plans pan out.
According to this report, the earliest we might see a home button-less iPhone is 2017, although the plans are early and timing - or really, everything - could change. And we've actually heard the part before about Touch ID being built right into a screen: an Apple patent uncovered in February (seen above) showed the very same process.
That said, the home button is very much a part of the iOS identity, from iPhones to iPads. It's a key part of the iconic design that has persisted across numerous models, and it's a comfortable approach for the many, many millions of longtime iPhone users. Not only is it functional in a few key ways, but it's familiar. That will be a hard element to shake, should Apple go that route.
On the other hand, removing the physical components needed for the home screen button could create slimmer, smaller, and cheaper-to-produce phones, not to mention more versatile and striking devices. It could be a couple years before anything happens, however, so there's no need to panic if you're a button aficionado. But if true, it'll be interesting to see if the iPhone takes on radical changes in the years ahead.