Apple scoopster Mark Gurman says that the upcoming high-end iPhone (commonly called the iPhone 8) will eschew the venerable Home button in entirety:
Across the bottom of the screen there’s a thin, software bar in lieu of the home button. A user can drag it up to the middle of the screen to open the phone. When inside an app, a similar gesture starts multitasking. From here, users can continue to flick upwards to close the app and go back to the home screen. An animation in testing sucks the app back into its icon. The multitasking interface has been redesigned to appear like a series of standalone cards that can be swiped through, versus the stack of cards on current iPhones, the images show.
The gesture being described sounds a lot like the multitasking interface in use on the iPad in iOS 11. It also, as Federico Viticci pointed out on Twitter, explains why you swipe up to dismiss the Lock Screen/Cover Sheet interface in iOS 11.
A lot of this rings true to me. The Home button is a time-honored part of the iPhone, but Apple has never been shy about ditching traditions when practicalities get in the way—cf. the headphone jack on the iPhone 7. There’s valuable real estate to be reclaimed by ditching the Home button, both in terms of increasing screen size and, as on the iPhone 7, getting rid of the physical button mechanism.
Changing the behavior of the Lock Screen, multitasking, and so on is going to be tough and require some retraining on the part of those who have been using the iPhone for a long time. But as with previous changes—the faux Home button in the iPhone 7, for example, or natural scrolling in MacOS X Lion—users who actually make the switch will likely carp for a few days, and then simply get used to it.
The Home button always acted as a safety net that let users quickly and easily return to the Home screen, but with 10 years of smartphones under our belts, I’d suspect that most people are comfortable enough that they could adapt to not having a physical Home button. And there’s an argument that doggedly maintaining it could hold back the development of the phone both in terms of hardware and in terms of how the device works. But all of that comes with the big caveat that we haven’t yet seen exactly what replaces it, beyond vague mentions of a “virtual home button” or “thin, software bar.”
It also makes sense to me that Apple would roll this out on the phone which is not expected to be the big seller of this year. Those who buy the new high-end iPhone are the early adopter types, and they’re most likely to acclimate to the changes, or, at least, accept them as tradeoffs for living on the bleeding edge.