While Samsung is busy integrating motion controls into its flagship smartphone, Apple may be brainstorming new ways to interact with smartphones through touch. A recently published patent describes a system in which your iPhone’s touchscreen could read your fingerprints and its home button could function as a trackpad.
The filing, which turned up on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s website, details technology that utilizes an iDevice’s display as a fingerprint sensor. This would make it easier to protect individual applications such as your email or social media accounts. To keep this tech from draining your battery on a regular basis, the device would function in two modes -- one in which your phone’s display acts as a normal touch screen and another in which it can detect your fingers.
This biometric feature would only be available on certain areas of the display where particular apps are housed. For example, your Mail app may require fingerprint authentication, but your Weather icon would be accessible without your fingerprint. This functionality could also allow iPhone owners to create shortcuts to certain apps. Since your iPhone or iPad’s display would be able to read each finger's print, you could perform a pinch gesture with two particular fingers to launch a certain application.
The same patent describes technology that would enable the Touch ID home button to act as a trackpad. In theory, the biometric scanner could detect movement in a particular direction and would then navigate through the interface accordingly.
So, for instance, if you’re reading an article and want to scroll down, you could do so by simply moving your finger downward on the fingerprint sensor rather than swiping your phone’s display. The patent doesn’t explicitly state that the tech is meant for iPhones, but it does make numerous references to portable devices with touchscreen displays. The accompanying images also depict what appears to be an iPad or iPhone and refer to the home button as the fingerprint sensor.
Not only would the home button detect gestures such as twisting or revolving your finger around the sensor, but it also measures how long and how forcefully you press it. As the patent notes, this could come in handy for gaming.
While there’s no guarantee that we’ll see this feature in future iDevice iterations, it certainly is interesting to see the technology Apple may be experimenting with. Even if the functionality described above never makes it to market, the patent offers some exciting prospects for biometrics in mobile devices beyond unlocking your phone or authorizing purchases.