It's always fun to speculate about what Apple has up its sleeve, and one way to get the rumors flying is to uncover Cupertino's latest patent applications. MacRumors has done just that, and the paperwork shows Apple has its eye on some intriguing technologies that may find their way into future iPhones and iPods.
Three noteworthy ideas discussed in the patent filings are haptic feedback, fingerprint identification, and RFID tag readers, says MacRumors' Arnold Kim. Here's what makes them interesting:
While the iPhone's touchscreen is a fantastic input device, its lack of tactile feedback limits its usefulness in certain situations, such as when a user is driving a car.
As stated in Apple's patent filing: "When the user is unable to view the display (because the user is occupied with other tasks), the user can only feel the smooth hard surface of the touchscreen, regardless of the shape, size and location of the virtual buttons and/or other display elements."
This means you can't navigate the display--finding icons, hyperlinks, and so on--without looking at the touchscreen and compromising your safety. "Unless touch input components are improved, users that, for example, drive a motor vehicle, may avoid devices that have a touch input component and favor those that have a plurality of physical input components (e.g., buttons, wheels, etc.)," the application states.
Apple's solution? Haptic displays that allow tactile feedback. The proposed design would include a grid of piezoelectronic actuators that allow users to "feel" different surfaces as they move a finger across the smooth touchscreen.
If Apple does implement haptic feedback, it wouldn't be the first smartphone maker to do so. Research In Motion will reportedly feature its TruePress system in the upcoming BlackBerry Storm 2, a haptic technology that's supposedly an upgrade of the original Storm's maligned SurePress click screen.
Another patent application shows Apple's interest in fingerprint recognition, perhaps as an input feature for future iPhones. Apple is apparently exploring ways to use patterns to identify specific fingers--for instance, a fingerprint from an index finger could trigger the media player to start.
A third application shows Apple's interest in adding RFID functionality to touchscreens. By embedding an RFID antenna in the touch sensor panel, an iPhone or iPod could be used as an RFID reader too. This feature could expand the market for Apple handhelds beyond the consumer market and into corporate and industrial uses.Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.