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Apple Considers New Hovering Capabilities for Future iOS Displays

1 - cover - Apple patent - touch and hover capable multi-touch displays - 2011 
It was about a year ago when we first learned of Apple's initial work on smart bezels that could one day apply to future versions of the iPad and/or other devices. As is the case with most cyclical research, ideas have a natural ebb and flow to them. In today's report you'll learn a little more about the smart bezel's advancements via hovering technology and about a new idea to make iOS displays a little more touch sensitive – if that's even possible. The good news is that Apple has taken some of the initial technology and thinking that was behind their smart bezel project and first applied it to other devices such as the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad. So now that we know that touch technology can go beyond mere displays, the idea of it applying to a future iPad bezel isn't as farfetched as it may have been just a year ago. Such is the nature of progress.  


Improving Hover Sensing Capabilities


In this particular patent, Apple sets out to improve capacitive touch and hover sensing. A capacitive sensor array could 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.


Hover sensing may also be improved using methods to detect a hover position of an object outside of a space directly above the touch surface. In particular, the hover position and/or height of an object that is nearby, but not directly above, the touch surface (in other words, an object outside of the space directly above the touch surface), e.g., in the border area at the end of a touch screen, may be determined using measurements of sensors near the end of the touch screen by fitting the measurements to a model. Other improvements relate to the joint operation of touch and hover sensing, such as determining when and how to perform touch sensing, hover sensing, both touch and hover sensing, or neither.


2 - Apple Patent - touch and hover figs 3 and 4 - feb 2011 

What New Capability will this bring to iOS Devices?


The hover position of an object in a border area outside the sensor array may be measured multiple times to determine multiple hover positions. The motion of the object could be determined corresponding to the multiple measured hover positions, and an input could be detected based on the determined motion of the object. For example, a finger detected moving upwards in a border area may be interpreted as a user input to increase the volume of music currently being played.


In some embodiments, the user input may control a GUI. For example, a finger detected moving in a border area may control a GUI item, such as an icon, a slider, a text box, a cursor, etc., in correspondence with the motion of the finger. You'll notice in patent FIG. 4 above that the "border" is technically the bezel of the device. 


Hmm, that get's you thinking doesn't it? I could easily see Apple adding a few easy gaming controls to the bezel so that when you fire up a game, you could program the bezel with easy options like two fingers up equals jump. Just like how you add options for the Magic Mouse.


Apple's patent goes on to state that in some embodiments, a user input could be based on a combination of information including the position and/or motion of an object directly above the sensor array and the position and/or motion of an object near the distal end of the sensor array and outside of the space directly above the sensor array.


3 - Apple Patent - Touch and Hover - figs 5, 11 - feb 2011 

Touch & Hover Sensor Control System


In Apple's patent FIG. 9 we see an example touch and hover sensing system which includes a sensor array and a sensor control system. The sensor control system includes a switching system, a touch control system, a hover control system and a low-leakage analog switch.


4 - Apple Patent - touch and hover control system - 2011 

In operation, the switching system determines when switching from touch sensing to hover sensing, and vice versa, should occur and operates low-leakage analog switch to switch between the touch control system and the hover control system accordingly.


Apple credits Jeffrey Bernstein, David Amm, Omar Leung, Christopher Tenzin, Brian King, Brian Land, and Reese Cutler as the inventors of this 2011 patent application, originally filed in Q3 2009. Apple was just granted a hover-centric patent in late January which demonstrates their focus on this area of technology.


New Idea: Anisotropic Optical Cover for Touch Displays


In another display related patent we once again see Jeffrey Bernstein along with team members Brian Lynch and Richard Dinh working on the use of an anisotropic optical cover for future iOS devices.


5 - Anisotropic optical cover for future displays being researched - patent, apple, 2011 

According to Apple's patent, the current positioning of a display device behind a touch sensor panel in a touch screen could present certain issues. For example, although touch sensor panels are constructed of clear materials, the clarity of a displayed image could be negatively impacted when transmitted through such materials.


Touch panel detection according to embodiments of the invention could be improved by arranging an optically anisotropic cover over a display module within which an optical sensor panel is embedded.


In one embodiment, the cover could be formed of a fiber optic bundle. In another embodiment, the cover could be formed of an anisotropic material, such as Ulexite for example. In a further embodiment, the cover could be formed by creating microholes in a substrate having a particular refractive index, and filling the microholes with a material having a higher refractive index.


Apple's patent FIG. 2 illustrates an exemplary sensing liquid crystal display (LCD) module with an anisotropic cover and patent FIGS. 4A and 4B illustrate exemplary non-planar anisotropic display module covers.


The technology could improve display clarity while improving touch panel detection for touch sensor panels embedded in display modules. The technology could be used on devices ranging from the iPhone to the MacBook as indicated in patent figures 6a-c above.


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