Is the lack of a mechanical button a step on the continuum towards an all-screen device?

When Apple makes a change to their hardware, they usually announce an explicit reason, a justification, something that makes you realize that this is a good and logical thing to do. It may be an obvious short term benefit or a longer term belief, or you know, courage — but there is a reason.

During the iPhone 7 announcement, Phil Schiller talked about the new home button by referring to the fact that Apple had previously “changed [their] input devices in big ways” citing examples like the iPod’s “mechanical click wheel” being replaced with an “electrostatic wheel” and more recently the MacBook’s Force Touch trackpad. Now the iPhone’s home button has been updated to what Schiller described as a “force sensitive, solid state home button.”

I understand the parallels he is describing with the iPod and MacBook, but I don’t actually hear a reason in there. Presumably you could still have the new Taptic Engine, which he also refers to, and still have a mechanical button.

Is it possible that this move is a stepping stone to a scenario where the home button (or lack thereof) is built right into the screen? Where you put your finger in a particular spot on the screen which acts like a physical home button, but it’s not actually there? This is of course the original thinking behind the iPhone’s software keyboard which most people in 2007 thought was insane. In the words of Steve Jobs from the original iPhone keynote, “When I don’t need a keyboard, it’s not there.”

Another clue is the use of the word “press” in various prompts through iOS 10 to represent both a 3D Touch on the screen and a physical pressing of the home button. This leads me to suspect that pressing the screen and pressing the home button are actually on a path towards being the same thing. I wrote about the general emphasis on “pressing” here.

Touch ID makes this theory a particularly tricky proposition — there is a legit hardware requirement needed to scan fingerprints, and I don’t know enough about the technology to know if it could be embedded into a usable screen.

But with rumors of something big coming for the 10th anniversary next year, it is certainly fun to think about…