Is Apple trying to kill the iPhone's home button?

The iPhone reveal: a history
The iPhone reveal: a history

Apple has already ditched the headphone jack. Is the home button next?

The company was granted a patent for a new screen-based fingerprint sensor on Tuesday. If it works, the technology would allow users to scan their fingerprint anywhere on a screen and eliminate the need for a home button on iPhones.

Apple's desire to get rid of the physical home button is one of the big rumors surrounding the next generation of the smartphone.

Apple (AAPL) has not confirmed its plans, and the new patent doesn't necessarily mean the home button is doomed. The company patents a lot of technology that never make it into a finished product.

apple fingerprint patent

But the new patent suggests Apple is taking a hard look at the possibility of eliminating the button in an effort to increase the size of the phone's screen. According to the patent filing, the technology would make it possible to "save valuable surface space."

Related: Apple unveils iPhone 7 and new Watch

In a possible transition to an on-screen home button on a future iPhone, Apple designed the new iPhone 7's Touch ID home button so that it can't be depressed. IPhone owners simply have to touch the home button to activate it. But sensors currently used in Apple's touch screens are not advanced enough to generate precise fingerprint scans.

This is not the first time Apple has explored fingerprinting technology. It previously bought 26 patents from biometric scanning startup Privaris.

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