Touchscreens have revolutionized how we interact with mobile devices, and for the most part, they do their job quite well. Instead of just emulating actions you’d perform with a mouse, the way we use touchscreens has evolved to the multi-touch, gesture-recognizing interfaces of today. Apple is looking towards the future, thinking about how it could improve those interfaces by letting touchscreens detect a finger hovering above them.
Now, there are capacitive touchscreens that already have limited hover-detection capabilities, but Apple wants to step things up a notch. In a patent application, the company outlines its design for a touch sensor that can recognize your finger at a much greater distance than any current model. Additionally, the sensor would recognize near-screen events, such as if your finger was just to the side of the screen, but neither touching it nor hovering directly over it.
When detecting a touch event, current sensors just report on the position of the input. Whether to treat a touch as a click or a drag is up to software to figure out. Hover detection would allow smartphones to detect finger position separately from touch events, giving developers a lot more freedom in how they design user interfaces.
Just as Apple brought multi-touch to the masses, will it make the same impact with hovering? We don’t even know right now if the company intends to actually build this system, but we’re very excited to see the results, if and when it does.