iPads, iPhones Could Soon Be Pressure Sensitive

The US Patent and Trademark Office finally issued Apple a patent for a device that can use pressure on the casing to control different functions.

Originally filed in 2009, Apple's Patent No. 8,390,481's purpose was initially to make a device more aesthetically pleasing by removing buttons, but it has implications that can change the way we interact with devices altogether. On a regular capacitive screen, once the user has touched the screen, it is unresponsive to other touch until they lift their finger. If a display is sufficiently grimy or if the user is wearing gloves, capacitive touch is also ineffective.

Combined with another two pending patents, AppleInsider reports, the system would use both pressure and electrical features of a metal casing to refine, pinpoint and make the sensors aware of what may or may not be an intentional input. In a laptop, the system could be implemented in a pressure-sensitive keyboard.

By filling empty spaces inside the device with dielectric material, the system can even measure the level of distortion in the case — namely, how hard it's being pressed. TechCrunch speculates that this could be used to add scrollbars to the sides of iDevices, which can control the speed of scrolling depending on how much force is applied. The iPhone 5's metal case is also a perfect medium for this function, TechCrunch says, and it could have potential in an iWatch. A line in the filing reads, "the PCB 110 may be manufactured using flexible printed circuit boards, such as a polyimide base with copper conductors," which bodes well for an eventual iWatch with pressure sensitivity.

Just like an accelerometer allows smartphones to know when it is shaken or turned, Apple's new patent would allow it to sense movements such as squeezing, tapping or holding, all of which could potentially trigger different features.

Being able to squeeze or otherwise affect the functionality of an iPhone or iPad if the screen should become unresponsive sounds pretty exciting to us, but how much pressure would it be able to take? And how many people are willing to squeeze their $600-plus devices just because it's more aesthetically pleasing than knowing exactly where to press?

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