Apple's iPhone 5S Could Eliminate the Problematic Home Button
Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is experimenting with an idea that could eliminate the need for the iPhone's home button, preventing future repairs for the device.
The home button is highly regarded as one of the iPhone's most problematic components. A Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) search for "iPhone broken home button" retrieved 24.5 million results versus a search for "iPhone broken antenna," which retrieved only 1.6 million results.
The issue is so common that there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of pages dedicated to helping users replace or repair their damaged home buttons.
Apple could prevent these problems -- and eliminate another moving part -- by replacing the home button with a flat, touch-sensitive area that performed the same action.
According to a Cult of Mac translation of a report by Taiwanese tech publication TechNews, supply chain sources claim that the next iPhone will include a "sapphire crystal capacitive touch home button that incorporates a new fingerprint sensor."
The sapphire crystal would be used to prevent the likelihood that scratches will tarnish the fingerprint sensor, which could prevent it from functioning properly.
When building the iPhone 5, Apple reportedly used sapphire crystals to protect the rear camera from a barrage of scratches. That feature was an important part of maintaining the iPhone's ability to take quality, scratch-free pictures.
From a cost perspective, it is unknown how the sapphire crystal and accompanying fingerprint sensor might increase Apple's expenditures.
Apple has been faced with diminishing margins, as every iPhone costs more to produce than the last. At the same time, investors are pushing for Apple to increase its margins -- a task that has proved to be all but impossible.
Take the iPad Mini, for example. It is significantly cheaper than the full-size iPad and has been less profitable than its predecessors. In the long run, however, the iPad Mini is expected to sell more units than the full-size model ever could. Thus, the Mini is the more valuable product -- but investors might not see it that way.
By building a cheaper iPhone, Apple likely has a similar goal: to sell more smartphones than ever before. If its margins are reduced, however, investors may have a difficult time coping with Apple's strategy.
While the iPhone 5S or iPhone 6 may include the fingerprint sensor, the lower-cost iPhone is likely to stick to the familiar home button.
Louis Bedigian is the Senior Tech Analyst and Features Writer of Benzinga. You can reach him at 248-636-1322 or louis(at)benzingapro(dot)com. Follow him @LouisBedigianBZ
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