updated 08:40 am EST, Thu December 4, 2008
Apple Hover Touchscreen
Apple has developed technology that would let an iPhone or similar device be controlled by hovering fingers nearby rather than just touches alone, a new US patent filing shows. The system would include the company's familiar capacitive touchscreen technology but would also introduce numerous infrared or similar sensors that can gauge the relative position of fingers, a whole hand or an outside object by measuring the differences in the light level at different points on the display.
While the iPhone currently has a monolithic proximity sensor that triggers basic events, such as switching the display off when the phone is near one's ear or enabling voice search in Google Mobile App, the newer technology would allow certain parts of the screen to remain active and could alternately modify the interface itself based on the exact position of items above the screen. Different controls could be highlighted or appear where they wouldn't be available through a screen that only allows touch, Apple says.
Apple isn't under obligation to use the technology from the patent in a finished product and notes that the sensing technique could apply to traditional computers as well as phones or portable media players. A notebook could tell when the user is hovering over a multi-touch pad and enable some or all of its controls while ignoring some input when one or both of the user's hands are in a regular typing position.
The patent application was submitted July of this year but is a partial continuation of a patent originally submitted in early January of 2007, just days before the iPhone's public announcement.