8 things we just learned about the iPhone 8

A huge leak may have spoiled Apple's big surprise.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
6 min read

In 2010, an Apple engineer left a prototype iPhone 4 in a bar, spoiling the biggest redesign to the iPhone since its 2007 debut

Apple has arguably never made as big a mistake since. But history has a way of repeating itself. For its 10-year anniversary, Apple is widely expected to redesign the iPhone yet again -- and another leak may have just spoiled some of the phone's new features.

Last week, the company seems to have mistakenly pushed out a firmware update for the new HomePod smart speaker, a device that won't even be available until December. And when iOS developers Steve Troughton-Smith and Guilherme Rambo dug through that code, they found buried treasure.

No, we still don't know what the new flagship iPhone will be called. Is it the iPhone 8? The iPhone X? Or perhaps the iPhone Pro?  

And, to be clear, caveats abound. CNET hasn't independently verified the software in question. Even assuming these leaked features are true, will Apple reverse course on anything now that it's out there? (For a presumed announcement less than six weeks away, it feels like the die is cast.) Is this the whole picture or only part of it? And of course that's assuming -- even in this paranoid age -- that this isn't all an elaborate disinformation campaign. Apple didn't respond to our request for comment.

That said, it appears that we know a lot more about the next iPhone now than we did just a week ago. Here are our eight big takeaways.

1. The bezels appear to be going away

Apple, via Guilherme Rambo

Does this look like any iPhone you've ever seen before? No -- because iPhones generally have big, thick borders at the top and bottom of the screen for the home button, earpiece, front-facing camera and a variety of sensors.

This is the silhouette of a very different iPhone. One with an edge-to-edge screen and no obvious place for a home button -- which lines up nicely with the rumors we've heard.

Above, see a handy animated illustration of just how different this iPhone may look.

2. It seems to have facial recognition, aka 'Pearl ID'

If Apple's trying to maximize the screen on this new iPhone, why leave such a big cut-out up top? 

One possible answer: That's where the brand-new face-recognizing camera needs to live.

Troughton-Smith and Rambo discovered dozens of references to face recognition in Apple's leaked firmware, not to mention a brand-new infrared camera -- one that sounds like it'll be mounted on the front of the phone.

In addition to seeing in the dark, infrared cameras are often used for facial recognition. That's because they can be set up to sense depth, preventing someone from using a flat picture of a person to fool a facial scanner.

The face recognition system even has a name (or, at least, a nickname): Pearl ID

And it looks like you'll need to scan your face twice to set it up.

3. There's apparently no home button...

That blue-border silhouette isn't the only evidence that the iPhone's iconic home button will bite the dust. There's an entry in the code that literally reads "deviceHasHomeButton," and the answer is zero. That's programmer speak for "it doesn't have one."

Troughton-Smith claims to have found references to a "home indicator" instead. That's a virtual home button that could appear on screen when needed, and disappear just as easily. If you've used the assistive touch accessibility feature, that may not sound terribly novel.

What about people who use the home button to wake up their phones? Troughton-Smith says he found a "tap to wake" feature as well. Perhaps you'll simply tap anywhere on the screen, like Microsoft's Lumia phones, to wake your phone from its nap.

4. The fate of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor is unclear, too

If Apple were to release a flagship iPhone that couldn't tap-to-pay at stores, would you care?

That may not be a rhetorical question, because Troughton-Smith and Rambo have yet to find any evidence that the new flagship iPhone will have a fingerprint sensor. 

It's probably not in the home button -- again, because there's probably no home button -- and Troughton-Smith says there's no reference to one that might live underneath the display. Apple was reportedly trying to put a fingerprint sensor inside the screen itself, but it was also reportedly struggling to integrate it.

A lack of evidence isn't great evidence, mind you. It could be buried deeper in the code -- or perhaps Apple will simply move the existing Touch ID fingerprint sensor to the back of the phone instead, as Samsung, Google, LG and others have done.

Couldn't Apple simply use the new Pearl ID face-recognition system to identify you? Perhaps -- but Rambo says it looks like Pearl won't be used for payments. Maybe the banks don't trust it enough yet: Samsung told CNET that its facial recognition system wasn't secure enough for such things. Apple might be facing similar issues -- but it's hard to imagine a new iPhone shipping with Apple Pay that's effectively broken, so something here doesn't quite add up. 

5. Your status bar may never be the same

Remember how the very top of the screen is bisected by that camera cut-out? That could wreak havoc on the iPhone's status bar, where you'd traditionally see your phone's battery life, cell signal strength, and the current time of day.

But what if each side of that camera cut-out held half the status bar?

That's what Troughton-Smith seems to have uncovered. And he says it looks like those two tiny sections of screen might even be interactive. 

6. Apple's augmented reality seems to get a boost

Even without any special hardware, Apple's AR platform feels like it has more realistic potential than today's Microsoft Hololens or Google Tango when it comes to bringing virtual objects into the real world. And the rumor mill suggested that the latest iPhone might add an rear-facing 3D laser system for advanced depth detection as well.

So far, developers haven't found any evidence of a rear-mounted sensor -- but it looks like that front-facing infrared camera might have a role to play in augmented reality as well, according to these two tweets:

We're not sure why Apple would want to identify specific facial expressions yet -- perhaps they're for a new AR selfie feature, akin to Snapchat and Instagram's popular filters?

7. There's a tiny shred of evidence for wireless charging

Wireless (inductive) charging has been one of the longest standing iPhone rumors that hasn't yet panned out, and KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (who has a solid track record for Apple predictions) believes all of Apple's new iPhones will include the feature this year. 

In June, the sleuths at MacRumors discovered a new sound file, buried in iOS 11, that they believed would be the sound an iPhone would make when it was placed on an inductive charger.

Now, Rambo has found a reference to a brand-new charging icon specific to the new iPhone, too:

It's not a lot to go on, but it's something.

8. The new iPhone probably won't be alone

One of the most intriguing rumors surrounding the new iPhone is that there will actually be three new phones this September: an iPhone 7S, an iPhone 7S Plus, and the new flagship iPhone. (The "S" series phones, like before, would adopt the same design as today's iPhones, only with a little more muscle and some other likely upgrades under the hood.)

KGI Research

Today, that theory seems likelier than ever before, because of two final discoveries. For starts, Rambo found mention of an "iPhone 9,9" that appears to be distinct from the new flagship iPhone. 

That's a little weak by itself -- but Troughton-Smith found a reference to a new 2,436x1,125-pixel resolution screen, which just so happens to perfectly match the screen resolution named by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo when he stated there'd be three new iPhones instead of two.

For context: The iPhone 7 has a 1,334x750-pixel resolution screen, while the iPhone 7 Plus has a 1,920x1,080-pixel display.

For more iPhone 8 rumors, check out our full rumor roundup.

Why the Galaxy Note 8 is a big deal: Jessica Dolcourt explains.

How Apple lept ahead on augmented reality: Google, Facebook and Microsoft just got told.