Something’s different about the forthcoming iPhone 8. We can’t put our finger on it. Maybe because Apple has finally killed the last front-facing button on its smartphone and with it, TouchID authentication. Plus, hear the new voice of Siri, find out where Apple’s automotive engineers just rolled up and see which supply chain partnership the tech giant wants to forge by tomorrow – in this week's Apple tracker.
The New Face Of iPhone
Apple has finally done away with the last remaining on-screen button on the iPhone – or at least, in the higher-end version of the new iPhone 8. It’s been well-reported that the tech giant plans to replace TouchID fingerprint authentication with facial recognition. Now further details have emerged about how users will navigate without it.
Rumor has it there will be a software bar that can be dragged to the middle of the screen to open the phone and can toggle between apps or return to the home screen – so, all the basic functions of the Home button, probably plus a bunch more to be unveiled at the press event Sept. 12.
Since removing the Home button is likely to be controversial, Apple will probably leave it on some versions of the next iPhone. It sounds like only the high-end version will be losing it this time around. However, if Apple sticks to its previous patterns, then future versions will be losing the Home button as well sometime in 2018 or 2019, TechCrunch predicts.
Car Designers Hit The Road
What does a startup called Zoox have to do with Apple? Formally speaking, very little. But it just picked up 17 former Apple automotive engineers, who abandoned the tech giant after it throttled back its plans to develop its own self-driving car. Apple is reportedly still working on software elements to be applied in a driverless environment, but since these 17 engineers specialized in design elements like braking and suspension systems, a software project doesn’t exactly leverage their strengths. Zoox has made a number of high-profile hires this year and was valued at more than $1 billion last year.
With the advent of iOS 11, Siri will be getting a serious upgrade. Apple recorded 20 hours of high-quality audio with a new voice actress and leveraged deep machine learning to slice and dice more natural-sounding responses from it. The patterns of stress and intonation in spoken language are difficult to replicate and can tax computer processors, but input enough training data and machine learning can apparently help a text-to-speech system combine audio segments to have a more organic cadence.
Listen to the new voice of Siri (and contrast it to the older versions) at the end of Apple’s recent research paper on the topic.
Chip Off The Old Block
For months, Toshiba has been in negotiations to sell off its chip business to cover the calamitous costs of a foray into the U.S. nuclear business. Apple is now apparently getting involved, which makes sense because if you look under the hood of its iPhones and iPods, you’ll find that they’re powered by Toshiba flash memory. Buying the Toshiba chips business would give Apple the kind of close relationship it likes to have with key suppliers to lock in agreements.
Bloomberg reports that Apple is now in talks with Bain Capital to throw its hat into the ring with competitors KKR & Co. and Western Digital Corp., which partners with Toshiba on the chips. Toshiba’s banks are pushing for a decision by tomorrow so the sale can be completed by March, when its shares will otherwise be delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.