Apple is looking to improve multi-touch with “hover sensing” on iPhones and iPads

Apple’s multi-touch interface on a capacitive iPhone touch screen brought about huge changes to mobile industry. And nothing much changed about it for the last few years.

Yes, everybody loved the idea, and went on to implement similar interfaces on their own gadgets – but the basics on all these new devices, remain the same.

Well, Apple is now looking at ways to improve their own multi-touch UI,  by adding hover sensing to it’s iOS devices. The new hover sensing capabilities are described in a new Apple’s patent application “Touch and hover sensing”.

With stuff I do remember from my high-school physics lessons, I sort of understand how Apple is planning to go about this “hover sensing”.

Still, I’ll better just quote what they say in the patent app:

A capacitive sensor array can be driven with electrical signals, such as alternating current (AC) signals, to generate electric fields that extend outward from the sensor array through a touch surface to detect a touch on the touch surface or an object hovering over the touch surface of a touch screen device, for example. The electric field can also extend behind the sensor array in the opposite direction from the touch surface, which is typically an internal space of the touch screen device. An AC ground shield may be used to enhance the hover sensing capability of the sensor array. The AC ground shield can be positioned behind the sensor array and can be stimulated with signals having the same waveform as the signals driving the sensor array. As a result, the electric field extending outward from the sensor array can be concentrated. In this way, for example, the hover sensing capability of the sensor array may be improved.

This way, when your finger(s) get into that concentrated electrical field above the touchscreen surface, your iPhone or iPad can sense them and start performing operations without you needing to touch anything. It can also combine both hover and touch operations into a single gesture commands.

How will Apple use this new “hover” improved multi-touch? I have no idea. New gestures, improved device responsiveness, new modes of operation, etc;

I’m sure Apple will think of something whenever (and even if) it gets around adding “hover” touch features to some future generation iPhones, iPads and other iDevices.

You can download full patent application here (*.pdf, 1.3MB)

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • Randy Addison

    I think it is awesome to have that improved multi touch on iPads and smartphones but the question is, does it really needed by the consumer? The touch screen is tiring enough for the hand, what more if your hand don’t touch anything.

  • Anonymous

  • Anonymous

    Apple slowly losing its coolness ha ha, happens to every big company. But Apple of course is still in honeymoon phase.

  • Anonymous

    what are you talking about? Back to your parents basement.