Apple's latest patent is about an iPhone that lets you push virtual buttons in thin air

Apple's latest patent is about an iPhone that lets you push virtual buttons in thin air
Amidst all the criticism Apple receives at the slightest hint of disturbance in its fortunes, lack of innovation and little R&D spending are prevalent topics. Yet, one of the most fascinating aspects of the iPhone maker is all the experimentation and invention going on behind its notoriously secretive curtains. Amidst self-driving cars and VR experiences, Apple is brewing novel technologies meant to empower its iOS-powered gadgets – but only when the kinks have been thoroughly worked out and their inclusion makes business and practical sense.

In most cases, competitors deliver the same features years earlier, but when Apple gets to hack at them, they tend to work tangibly better. In one example, wireless charging is an advantage that many Android and Windows-powered handsets have had over the iPhone since 2012. Seemingly very late to the game, Apple is rumored to bring wireless charging to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, but it's not going to be the ol' "prop the phone on a charging mat and go do something else". Rather, it wants to make the phone charge from a distance of up to 3 feet (1 meter) away, which is something no competing product has been able to do. And if you ask most iPhone people whether they've been missing out on the regular, functional wireless charging we have now, you're more likely to get a puzzled look, rather than become their crying shoulder.

So, here's something else of the sort that Apple has been up to! According to this patent that it recently won, it wants to give its devices and peripherals contact-less control by virtue of photodiodes and other proximity-sensing components that work together with traditional multitouch displays and carry out the user interaction area beyond the screen. The invention measures input in an opposite direction along the z-axis, relative to the iPhone screen. It is similar to 3D Touch, as it too includes a capacitive sensing element built in the LCD display. Combined with proximity sensors, it makes for a more complete image of touch inputs by detecting "hover" gestures made by finger, palm, or another object hovering above a display surface.

The technology is capable of seemingly mundane things – for example, hovering one's finger over a proximity sensor, a user can turn the entire touch panel (or portions of it) on or off, toggle certain features, dim or brighten the display. We've toyed with some Android apps that let smartphone users accomplish something that sounds very similar. It can also dim or brighten the display according to the distance from the user's face. But after spending some more time in the oven, the technology could potentially let users "push" virtual buttons, trigger functions without touching the screen, toggle power to certain hardware components, and whatever else a developer's imagination can bring.

Still, let's hold our horses for the time being. It will be a while before the invention makes its way outside Apple's labs, as 3D Touch still has plenty of unexplored territory left. However, we could see competitors bring forth an alternative before the gang at Cupertino, which would be an interesting taste of things to come.

source: USPTO via Apple Insider



1. BradyCrack

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 29, 2015

Looks interesting

11. Shubham412302

Posts: 569; Member since: Nov 09, 2011

its samsung airview

38. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

its funny that they act like they never hear airview at all.. instead, they choose to bragging Apple's wireless patent that still not confirmed to be used in any of apple product, lol

41. BradyCrack

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 29, 2015

Hmm didn't air view fail? Didn't they remove the sensor thingy? This uses sensors on the screen not a sensor on the top of the phone. Plus it's probably not going to lag.

17. LetsBeHonest

Posts: 1548; Member since: Jun 04, 2013

Jeez.. Those wireless charging tech is just a rumour and PhoneArena already gave way too much credit in this article alone. There were always lots of features gets rumoured before iPhone launch but most of them wont make it in the final product. Apple hardly done anything original since a long time. They sits back and watch what others throws and what sticks right and then make some changes & call it revolutionary and you people give praise it sky high with no credits those who originally did it. That's not the original Apple jobs created. There's no more originality. Seriously u guys are way too much biased.

2. Iodine

Posts: 1478; Member since: Jun 19, 2014

Hmm... So that is the reason why it's called "3D touch" not only "Force touch" ? Maybe it's not avalable now, but 3D would fit to such great tech. A display that can sense touch pressure and proximity - bring it on !

24. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

Because its marketing BS crazy people like you fall for. What exactly is "3D" about it? NOTHING. No more than "Retina" Display having any meaning whatsoever. Force Touch is what it is. It is a display can can measure how much "FORCE" is being applied to register a commend in the software. What exactly is 3D? - "3D" would describe any object that occurs on a three-axis. Tell me how 3D Touch follows this definition on a flat ass screen? I'm sorry you're an idiot and Apple love people like you.


Posts: 68; Member since: Feb 16, 2015


32. Brewski

Posts: 671; Member since: Jun 05, 2012

Srsly. Why does PA feel the need to hype up Apple for two paragraphs about an unrelated topic before getting to the meat of it all? No other manufacturer gets as much screen time as Apple does on here...

4. Kakarot

Posts: 57; Member since: Jul 31, 2015

So. What is the difference between this and "Air view" by samsung?

5. TyrionLannister unregistered

Can't you see it. It's made by apple. I so want to hear the same tech sites that called air view as gimmick calling this revolutionary.

21. techietech

Posts: 29; Member since: Jan 24, 2016

Air view was called a gimmick due to lack of app support. Not every app developer incorporated air view on their app. But with 3D Touch, Apple has assured that every app can use this. Apple makes it easier for developers to incorporate their apps to the new hardware which is a big advantage imo. And I can see that this new patent would be the same with 3D Touch. Apple copies features from Samsung, however, Apple makes it better. Anyways, kudos to Samsung for developing awesome features.

22. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

3D touch dont work in most app only some of them have it. Airview worked perfectly well for what it did. This website is so biased toward apple...

27. AlikMalix unregistered

About half of my apps and games have some sort of forcetouch support. Consider that the first iPhone that supported it is less than half a year old. That's extremely great adoption rate.

40. techietech

Posts: 29; Member since: Jan 24, 2016

Enlighten me with your argument.

33. tedkord

Posts: 17311; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

And when Samsung does the same (for instance, Samsung Pay which is better than Apple Pay, and technically wasn't copied from Apple anyway), all we hear is copycat. Double standard.

34. tedkord

Posts: 17311; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Apple doesn't always do it better. The overall phablet concept is am example. Also the single handed mode they copied from Samsung.

8. AlikMalix unregistered

@kakarot: That's what I was wondering....

18. cnour

Posts: 2305; Member since: Sep 11, 2014

Answer: it will be smooth on iPhone but it lags on Samsung

29. tedkord

Posts: 17311; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Except it doesn't. Tard harder.

6. AlikMalix unregistered

If it's just for hovering 1/2 inches above the screen like Samsung devices before they threw it out with S6/S6edge - I wont be impressed and will join the "Apple copied Samsung" crowd. But if apple actually does put the PrimeSense tech that they acquired a while back and some visual aid (like hologram) for the interaction in thin air - then we're talking... but I dont see anything close to that anytime soon... So far, Samsung failed at making this as natural as apples Forcetouch on 6s/6s+... Lets see what Apple learned from Samsung's implementation and what it can do now...

7. AlikMalix unregistered

One more thing... there was some research (not by tech engineers, but by scientists) on adding mass to light particles - that may allow us to feel light as a solid object - then you can revolutionize a personal device (like the smartphone) completely - a la "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" movie type of interaction with technology... Ah, the human mind can only dream...

28. engineer-1701d unregistered

your talking about photon pulse waves, windows did something similar feeling what was on screen

9. submar

Posts: 713; Member since: Sep 19, 2014

havent seen any tech by any oem proved to be very useful since 2015 except shatterproof screen

13. AlikMalix unregistered

I can agree with that (including the screen). Some stuff is somewhat useful, but not very useful, nothing you can't live without. Although I have visited a design studio (same guys that design my floor plans - and they swear by the Apple pencil on iPad pro. Apple stores don't even show half the things these guys are doing with the iPad pro and the pencil. So to a very few professionals the pencil is a welcome and a much needed piece of tech. To me, one thing stands out is one particular feature of 3D Touch: the one finger cursor scroll built into the stock iOS keyboard. I love it!!!

35. tedkord

Posts: 17311; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Shatterproof screen is awesome. Hope all get it.

10. tedkord

Posts: 17311; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Hovering over the screen! Why didn't anyone think of that before?

12. AlikMalix unregistered

Don't you think it's fair to wait to see how Apple is going to implement it and what it will be used for? But you're right.... From reading this - it does seem like the same thing.

16. tedkord

Posts: 17311; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

Why wait? People cried copy when Samsung came out with a smartwatch over a year before Apple. At least I'm calling it when Sammy actually did it first. And suddenly, it won't be a gimmick.

26. AlikMalix unregistered

Ted I remember Apple Watch rumors years before Samsung made a watch. I don't think people cried copy the smart watch, but instead the idea of a modern smart watch. But Samsung made a first - do Samsung gets the crown regardless how good or bad it sold.

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