Apple is planning a big design change for its next iPhone that could include removing the home button, analyst says

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iPhone home buttonREUTERS/Stephen LamThe home button which doubles as a fingerprint sensor is seen on an image of the new iPhone 5S at Apple Inc's media event in Cupertino, California September 10, 2013.

Apple is planning to change the design of its next iPhone, and there's a chance it may even remove the physical home button we've all grown used to, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster wrote in a recent note picked up by Barron's.

The idea that Apple could change the design of its next iPhone, which will presumably be called the iPhone 7, isn't surprising.

Apple typically revamps the way its iPhones look and feel every other year. But what's interesting about Munster's predictions is that he notes there's a "50% chance" the iPhone 7 won't have a physical home button.

"As many have speculated, the addition of 3D Touch may provide Apple with a way to eliminate the home button on the phone and use the additional space to make the screen bigger or make the device smaller," Munster writes.

Munster makes a point - some Android device makers are able to add larger screens to their phones without actually increasing the physical size of the device by making the bezels (the borders around a device's screen) smaller. Eliminating the home button would allow Apple to cut out part of the bezels to make the iPhone's screen larger while keeping the design relatively small and thin.

But there's a big reason why it seems unlikely that Apple will cut out the home button anytime soon - TouchID. Apple's fingerprint reader, which is used to unlock the iPhone and authenticate purchases with Apple Pay, currently resides in the home button. Munster noted this too, and suggested that Apple could move the TouchID sensor to the side of the phone.

Apple has also filed a patent application that describes a system in which a fingerprint sensor could be embedded in the screen itself. That doesn't necessarily mean this tech will appear in Apple's future products, but it just shows the company has at least considered it.

This isn't the first time we've heard rumors about Apple getting rid of the iPhone's home button. Digitimes, a Taiwan-based publication with a shaky track record when it comes to reporting on upcoming products, reported in June that Apple is making an iPhone with a home button built into the iPhone's screen. Apple Insider reported the same citing its own sources, but also said an iPhone without a home button wouldn't launch before 2017.

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