Goodbye round, home button Touch ID. Hello fingerprint scanner integrated in the power button.
Apple on Tuesday unveiled its newest gadgets, including an updated $599 iPad Air that integrates Touch ID into the power button on top of the tablet. The move makes it easy to unlock the device will wearing a mask and allows Apple to include a larger screen in its tablet.
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In the past, Apple has embedded its fingerprint sensor into a round button at the bottom of its devices, taking away real estate from the display. In recent years, it has favored its Face ID facial recognition unlock technology in most of its phones and tablets, allowing Apple to include bigger screens on its devices.
But as the novel coronavirus pandemic ravages the world and people wear masks, it has made sense for consumers to seek out devices with physical buttons. Apple's Face ID is more secure than Touch ID, but it doesn't work when someone's wearing a mask. In May, Apple made its devices unlock faster while wearing a mask, but it still requires someone to remove the mask for Face ID to work or to type in a passcode.
Apple brought Touch ID back with March's $349 iPhone SE. In that case, the technology was embedded into the round home button, and many applauded the ease of unlocking the device while wearing a face mask. But the inclusion of Touch ID in the home button limited the size of the phone's display.
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By integrating the technology in the top power button on the new iPad Air, Apple has been able to stretch the screen across the entire front of the display. It also could signal what's to come in Apple's 5G iPhone 12 lineup, expected as soon as October.
"As wearing masks will be part of our future for a much longer time adding #touchID to the power button on #iPhone would make a lot of sense," Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi tweeted during Apple's event on Tuesday.
Android device makers, like Samsung, have included fingerprint unlocking technology in buttons on the sides of their phones for years, and they've also integrated the technology underneath the display itself — something Apple hasn't done.
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Apple's event, its second virtual presentation during the pandemic, comes at a difficult time. The coronavirus has infected over 25 million people around the globe and killed about 850,000. Millions of people are out of work amid a recession that's hitting the US hard, and COVID-19 shows no signs of abating in many places in the world. People have been scooping up electronics that let them work or take classes at home — like webcams and laptops — but they've been shunning purchases like 5G smartphones. This year, the phone industry will see its biggest drop in sales in a decade, according to CCS Insight.
Apple typically holds a flashy product launch in September to show off its newest iPhones. The Apple Watch, iPad and other devices typically take a back seat to Apple's key smartphone, and the company at times holds another event in October for its iPads and Macs. This time around, Apple's focusing on its other products, particularly its Apple Watch and iPad. Apple earlier this year warned its iPhone production would be hurt by COVID-19, and in late July, it said its newest iPhones, which will sport super-fast 5G connectivity, would be delayed "by a few weeks" because of the pandemic.
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