iPhone 13 is coming soon, but will Apple's new iPhone be buttonless?

Apple could opt for a sleeker look and ditch the on/off button for the iPhone 13.

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
2 min read
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The next iPhone may not have physical buttons.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Say goodbye to the buttons on your iPhone 12. It may be the last iPhone to feature the on/off button. The iPhone 13 is scheduled to make an appearance on Sept. 14 at Apple's next event, and the new iPhone could go buttonless. But without the little bars on the side, how will you control your iPhone? Here's what rumors suggest Apple may do instead. 

A US patent application spotted by Apple Insider suggests the company is investigating "capacitive sensing input devices." Apparently these input devices, aka buttons, will be "invisible backlit holes" that appear when touched and disappear when not in use. 

This approach sounds pretty slick and will no doubt add a bit of elegance if applied to any device. The big question is whether a feature like this will find its way into the next iteration of the iPhone, or if we have to wait until 2022 or beyond in order to see Apple integrate it. It's not an entirely wild concept and fits with other possible changes Apple may make to future iPhones.

Read more: iPhone 13 release date and why it might actually be called the iPhone 12S

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The iPhone 13 might have a fingerprint reader embedded behind its display like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G.

Sarah Tew/CNET

For example, there's been talk of the iPhone 13 regaining a fingerprint scanner. Instead of a physical reader, though, the new scanner would live under the surface of the phone's screen. It's a tactic that certainly matches a buttonless, minimalist design aesthetic should Apple choose to go this route.

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman commented on the rumors about the fingerprint scanner, called Touch ID, in an August Power On Newsletter. Gurman speculates that the under-screen Touch ID sensor "won't make the cut" for the iPhone 13. He says that Apple will embed Face ID under the display instead of Touch ID. 

Watch this: Review: The iPhone 13 and 13 Mini check all the boxes

Apple already killed the headphone jack in the iPhone 7 back in 2016, and rumors suggest the Lightning port might be getting the ax as well. If the iPhone 13 nixes its Lightning port and goes all-in on wireless charging, it would become Apple's first completely portless phone. Why not add buttonless to the mix?

This patent application could be associated with an entirely different product than the iPhone. After all, much of what we think we know about Apple's anticipated handset is conjecture. Even its product name is uncertain. However, one thing is clear: All these mysteries will be dispelled at Apple's next iPhone launch event, scheduled for next week.  

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