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Apple patents iPhone screen you don’t need to touch

Source: Financial Review - John Davidson

iPhone screen patentA just-published US patent suggests Apple could be working on an iPhone screen you don’t always have to besmirch with your grubby fingers.

The phones will use sensors to detect when your fingers are hovering above the screen, and take action accordingly.

The ” Proximity and multi-touch sensor detection and demodulation ” patent, just published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, details a phone screen that can detect when a finger is hovering above it, using one or more infrared sensors on the phone.

Combined with information coming from the regular touch-screen technology, the hover detection could be used to create new gestures, in much the same way that Apple’s 3D Touch creates new gestures, but in reverse.

With 3D Touch, when you press harder on the screen, new controls pop up on the screen. With this proximity patent, a new function is performed “when a detected touch event at least partially overlaps in time with the detected (hover) movement”.

Which suggests, for instance, that you might be able to pull something towards you – perhaps to sort it, or perhaps to distort it – by touching it on the screen and then pulling your finger back with a hover gesture.

But the hover detection might also be used by itself, allowing you to control your iPhone without ever touching the screen.

“The . . . proximity sensors can be used to implement the function of ‘pushing’ virtual buttons appearing on the touch panel and trigger functions without actually requiring contact with the touch panel,” the patent application says.

I’m pretty sure my own phone sometimes thinks I’ve touched it, even before my finger has reached the screen, but Apple’s patent covers hover events that are farther from the phone than that phenomenon, which (if I’m reading the patent application right) occurs with capacitive touch screens and which Apple describes as the “near-field detection capabilities of touch sensors”.

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