The information was delivered to AppleInsider
in a research note from respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. Kuo has a track record of accurately predicting key features of Apple products ahead of their public launch.
The long-rumoured 5.8-inch OLED iPhone 8 will actually have 5.15-inches of usable
screen space, according to Kuo. The remaining section will form a unique function bar, replacing the current physical home button at the bottom of the display.
The bar will be used to display virtual controls for common system functions, including navigating to the home screen. It's likely app developers will be able to add their own buttons to the bar, such as back and forward controls in a web browser or capture options in cameras.
In many ways, the function area will act like a mobile version of Apple's Touch Bar auxiliary MacBook display. The always-on buttons will allow Apple to experiment with radical new hardware and software designs. The front of the iPhone will be an unbroken sheet of glass. Within iOS, settings toggles currently hidden inside Control Center could be lifted into the function area.
It remains to be seen how the region will work in practice. Although Apple seems likely to go for an interactive approach similar to the Touch Bar, it could also leave the function area as a strip of static buttons. This would make the design similar to Android phones with on-screen keys, a concept consumers are already familiar with.
It is also unclear how Apple will integrate
its Touch ID biometric authentication technology into the new chassis. It could use an optical fingerprint sensor embedded beneath the display, a system Samsung is experimenting with for the Galaxy S8
. Alternatively, Apple may abandon Touch ID entirely, replacing it with something new four years after it launched.
The company is thought to be experimenting with
facial recognition techniques that could make an appearance this year. Rumours of new finger scanning tech have also surfaced online, suggesting Apple could be trying to streamline the Touch ID experience. Whichever form it takes, unlocking and securing the next iPhone is likely to be very different to last year's models.
Besides confirming the function area's existence, Ming-Chi Kuo also verified recent reports on the OLED iPhone 8's price tag. With manufacturing costs said to be 60 percent higher than the regular LCD models, the handset is expected to start at $1,000.
Apple intends the device to be a celebration of ten years of the iPhone that targets its most devoted fans. The other two models
launching this summer, now thought to be branded as the "iPhone 7s," will be iterations of the current iPhone line-up.