Apple Working on No-Touch Display for Hovering Fingers

A patent application by Apple points to a method that lets a display screen read a user's intent when hovering a finger over the display.

Apple no-touch display

Apple has received a patent for a technology that would allow an iPhone or iPad or other device to "sense" a user's finger input when hovering over a display screen, rather than physically touching the surface.

The patent for the "proximity and multi-touch sensor detection and demodulation" technology was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Feb. 2, according to a report by The latest patent application for touch technologies by the company follows its moves last year when it introduced 3D Touch force-sensing inputs in its iPhone 6s smartphones.

The patent for the technology "details methods by which photodiodes, or other proximity sensing hardware, work in tandem with traditional multi-touch displays to essentially shift the user interaction area beyond the screen," the story reported. "In some ways, the invention is similar in scope to 3D Touch, but measures input in an opposite direction along the z-axis relative to an iPhone's screen."

The newly granted patent "includes in part a capacitive sensing element disposed throughout an LCD display with multiple piggy-backed proximity sensors" that would collect information that would then allow hover gesture detection, according to the story. "The document suggests use of infrared LEDs and photodiodes, much like the infrared proximity modules iPhone uses for head detection," and that light "bounces off a user's finger and is captured by the photodiode, which changes current output as a function of received light," allowing the hovering motions to be interpreted.

The sensors could "detect a finger, palm or other object hovering just above a display surface," the report continued. This would potentially allow users to push virtual buttons or operate other functions without ever touching a display, offering touch-less operations, according to the story.

The granting of the patent doesn't mean that such a technology will show up in Apple devices anytime soon, the report warned. "Apple is still looking for unique 3D Touch integrations for its first-party apps, while many third-party developers have yet to take advantage of the pressure-sensing iPhone 6s feature," the story states. "Introducing yet another input method would muddy the waters."

Apple has been reportedly considering other new features for its products as well, according to a wide range of rumors that seem to always be circulating on the Internet. A new iPad Air 3 tablet with a 9.7-inch display, a long-rumored 4-inch iPhone 5se and new Apple Watch models are all rumored to be announced at a March event aimed at showing off its latest hardware, while new Apple Watch models are also expected, according to a January eWEEK story.

Recent reports about the rumored smaller iPhone 5se describe the handset as being a special edition variation of the previous 4-inch iPhone screen size and an enhanced version of the iPhone 5s. It won't be a smaller version of Apple's iPhone 6s (pictured), but is instead being built as an upgrade to the company's iPhone 5s that debuted in the fall of 2013.

According to sources, the rumored iPhone 5se will include upgrades in hardware and software as well as curved edges like those on the latest iPhone 6 and 6s devices, while the handset will retain the same 8-megapixel rear camera and 1.2-megapixel front camera systems used on the iPhone 6. A near-field communication (NFC) chip will be incorporated to allow the phone to use Apple Pay, and it could also include camera support for larger panoramas and auto-focus for video recording. Also included will be faster and more powerful Apple A8 and M8 chips from the iPhone 6 and Bluetooth 4.2, voice over LTE (VoLTE), and 802.11ac WiFi chips from the iPhone 6s.

Apple is planning to debut the smaller, more feature-laden phone to attract new buyers to a handset that won't take away sales from its larger flagship phones, while also encouraging iPhone 5 users to upgrade without having to move to one of the company's larger phones if they choose to carry a smaller phone.

The 4-inch iPhone 5se would be smaller than the company's existing 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone smartphones, giving customers more options. Rumors about the smaller 4-inch iPhone began in earnest in December 2015, according to an earlier eWEEK report, when a KGI Securities analyst wrote in a research report about the possibilities of such a device.