Imagine commanding your iPhone or iPad without your finger actually touching the screen. A new Apple patent proposes just that.
The patent "Proximity and multi-touch sensor detection and demodulation," granted Tuesday to Apple by the US Patent and Trademark Office, describes sensors that detect the position and motion of your finger or fingers hovering above the screen. Your device would react differently based on your gestures.
The hover-sensing control could mark a new way to use your phone or tablet, following advances such as Apple's Siri voice control and the pressure-sensitive 3D Touch capability.
The iPhone already employs a type of motion detection. Using proximity sensors, the phone can detect the motion and distance of your head in relation to the handset. The patent would also mean that proximity sensors could detect the presence of your finger, palm or entire hand moving above the screen.
Detecting your finger or palm would allow the phone to perform specific tasks that normally require more steps, according to the patent. For example, you could turn the touch panel on or off, turn the entire display on or off, and dim or brighten the screen. Further, hovering your finger above the screen could "push" virtual buttons.
The standard touch-screen interface would still be part of your phone or tablet. In fact, the "combination of touch panel and proximity (hovering) sensor input devices can enable the computing system to perform additional functions not previously available with only a touch panel," Apple said in the patent. The same internal components would handle both types of input, so no additional circuitry would be required, helping to keep down the cost of the device.
The technology could also wend its way to other types of devices, such as desktops, laptops, ATMs, vending machines and point-of-sale terminals, the patent said.