Tucked away in an iPhone-related report from Korean outlet The Investor are a few interesting details about how Samsung will handle the transition from physical buttons to virtual keys in its own upcoming flagship. The site reports that, as the sole supplier of OLED panels for the iPhone 8, Samsung Display is working on integrating a sensor for 3D Touch into the panel. That's not unexpected, nor would pressure sensitivity in an OLED phone screen be a new thing — Huawei has been doing that since 2015's Mate S.
But the article also lets slip that Samsung's mobile arm may be implementing a similar technology in a part of the Galaxy S8's display — specifically the portion around the home screen.
And citing sources, The Investor says the Galaxy Note 8 may adopt pressure sensitivity for the entire display. (A phone which may well make it to market before Apple's next iPhone, if previous years are any indicator.) Samsung has been rumored to introduce pressure sensitivity in its phone screens since the first rumors of 3D Touch emerged, but now the timing may finally be right.
The use of pressure-sensitive software keys on the Galaxy S8 would answer a few major usability questions. Firstly, removing the physical home key would eliminate the one really easy way to power on the phone while it's lying flat. A combination of Samsung's existing Always-On Display tech and a pressure-sensitive home key on the screen would fill this gap, allowing GS8 owners to simply press on the screen and get some kind of haptic feedback.
Sure enough, an Always-On Display with a virtual home key has been seen in some of the recently leaked GS8 photos, like the one on the right.
One piece of the puzzle Samsung's missing is Apple's legendary haptics.
This setup would be similar to what Apple will have to engineer to translate the iPhone 7's Taptic Engine-powered non-clicky home button onto the display itself. The key component that Samsung appears to lack, however, is Apple's advanced haptic system.
The dream solution would be to implement a fingerprint scanner into the display alongside all that stuff, something which was reportedly scrapped in the GS8 at the last minute. But with more advanced pressure-sensing tech tipped for the Note 8, there's every chance that Samsung will want to get the entire package — virtual keys, pressure sensitivity and fingerprint — into the screen.
Consider that the Note 8 is also rumored to feature Samsung's first 4K AMOLED panel, and it's easy to see how the next Note could bring several technological breakthroughs.
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