Apple Patent reveals Intensity-Sensitive Off-Display Input Regions that are superior to a "Solid State" button system now being rumored
Back in October 2022, Ming-Chi Kuo tweeted about his research on Apple adopting a new "solid-state" button design for iPhone that will replace the current physical/mechanical button design.
Yet Apple has been working on a completely different button system that is superior to solid-state, according to a patent application that surfaced this past Thursday (01/15/23). Specifically, Apple's patent relates generally to electronic devices with displays and intensity-sensitive input regions, including but not limited to electronic devices with displays and intensity-sensitive off-display input regions.
To clarify, Apple's patent background states that many electronic devices with displays include mechanical buttons, such as mechanical home buttons, volume buttons, and power buttons. But mechanical buttons provide little, if any, feedback to a user beyond a fixed down click and a fixed up click.
Some devices have solid-state home buttons on the display-side of the devices to replace the mechanical home buttons. A display-side solid-state home button is coupled with tactile output generators that generate tactile outputs to simulate various types of mechanical button clicks when the solid state home button is activated by a press input. The solid-state home button is a close analog of a mechanical home button and is designated for a very limited set of functions triggered by a few types of press inputs. Display-side solid state buttons also take up valuable space on the display-side of the device, reducing available display area for visual information on a portable electronic device.
Graphical User Interfaces For Interaction With An Intensity-Sensitive Input Region
Apple notes in their patent summary that there is a need for electronic devices with improved button methods beyond mechanical and solid-state that will provide interfaces, haptics, and/or audio feedback during interaction with an off-display input region (e.g., an intensity-sensitive side button or surface), which make manipulation of user interfaces more efficient and intuitive for a user.
There is also a need for electronic devices with improved methods and interfaces for providing additional functionality without cluttering up the display with more virtual controls or crowding the surface of the device with more hardware controls.
Such methods and interfaces optionally complement or replace conventional methods for providing additional function controls and providing feedback during interaction with a device using a button.
Such methods and interfaces reduce the number and extent of the inputs required from a user by helping the user to understand the connection between provided inputs and device responses to the inputs and reducing user input mistakes, thereby creating a more efficient human-machine interface.
The deficiencies and other problems associated with user interfaces for electronic devices with mechanical buttons are reduced or eliminated by the disclosed devices, which include one or more intensity-sensitive input regions (e.g., off-display intensity-sensitive buttons or surfaces located on peripheral sides of the device).
While the focus of the patent is on the new intensity-sensitive input regions being associated with a future iPhone, Apple expands it's possible future use with Macs, iPad and Apple Watch.
Below are just a few examples of a new off-display intensity-sensitive button system that may be in the works that covers new GUI's when interacting with side buttons covering accessing utilities and features like do not disturb, on and off, accessing your Apple Card, accessing emergency service and changing audio including a mute function (thank you Apple) and more.
Apple also provided patent graphics relating to a new way of working with graphics, documents and more utilizing the iPhone's side buttons.
For more details, review Apple's patent application # US 20230012223 A1.
Will Ming-Chi Kuo's forecast prove to be correct, or will Apple go with a system that they themselves describe as superior to a solid-state button system? I think the latter will prevail.
A Few of Apple's Inventors
- Camille Moussette: Lead Interaction Designer and Manager
- Megan McClain: Mechanical Design Engineer
- Michael Beyhs: Prototyping Engineer, HW, FW, SW | Touch and Sensing Incubation
- Thayne Miller: Senior Engineering Manager, Touch & Sensing Hardware
- David Bloom: Quality Assurance Manager
- (Jimmy) Miao He: Software Engineer III, Location, Sensing and Connectivity.