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Apple Patenting Hover Sensing Technologies for Touchscreens

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Apple has filed a patent application for developing hover sensing capacitive touchscreens, which could find implementation on iPhones and iPads. Rather than requiring users to actively tap on the screen to register input, Apple’s patent would extend the electrical field outwards so users can hover their fingers over a touchscreen without requiring them to press or tap the screen to register input. Additionally, hover and touch functionality can be combined into a single command:

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.

It’s unclear how soon, if ever, this technology will make it to a future iPad or iPhone. Many times, Apple files patents for technologies that it discovers or invents without implementing those technologies into consumer or commercial products.

Also, it’s unclear if Apple intends on redefining the user interface or experience with an iPhone or iPad with the hover sensing technology. For one, it would bring consumer touchscreen portable products closer in line with the desktop experience. One application could be used to select and highlight text. Hover your finger to bring the cursor to where you’d like to begin, push down and select the text you want to highlight.

Via: Unwired View

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

7 Comments

  1. savagemike

    01/13/2011 at 10:23 pm

    Sure – it’s an idea which has only been seen in popular science fiction for decades, why not grant a patent on it…

  2. Tim Davies

    01/14/2011 at 5:33 am

    It also happens to be something Microsoft is doing with the Surface 2.0, though I think they are using infrared sensors to do it.

  3. cuhulin

    01/14/2011 at 1:13 pm

    It also is how wacom pens have worked for years.

  4. drush

    01/14/2011 at 2:03 pm

    I had an app on my Latitude XT that did the same thing. If the cursor hovered over a button, the button would be clicked.

  5. Prothero Fitzgibbon

    01/14/2011 at 9:06 pm

    I wonder whether these new hover sensor screens would work whilst wearing gloves? This is a major drawback of current capacitive touchscreens, although it can be overcome by wearing gloves designed for touch screens like these: http://www.touchscreengloves.co.uk

  6. Yogh

    01/15/2011 at 9:12 pm

    I wonder what this would do for weight and battery life of a mobile device. Transforming DC to AC to enable this would require a transformer, which is generally heavy and I think inefficient. If those are limiting factors then this would be great for something like the Surface, but horrible for an iPad.

  7. Nate

    05/11/2011 at 1:07 am

    hah. wow. Patenting ideas that you don’t intent to use for the purpose of monopolizing your platform. Apple’s primary reason for slamming Flash so much was because it relied heavily on mouse hover interaction. And the whole time they had the perfect solution for it. They will obviously implement this once they realize Flash isn’t going to disappear – and they should be scared of Google not Adobe which I think Steve is beginning to realize.

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