Apple’s Patent Filing Hints at Button-Free iOS Devices

Apple has recently filed a patent that hints at a possible new direction for the company’s iOS devices. Patent number 7,800,592 describes a system by which “a grid of capacitative sensing points” can load user profiles, be used to implement “button functions” and combines input from both or either hand(s) holding the device. Long story short, it lets you control an iPad or a similar device by just the way you hold it.

The patent may or may not find its way into any future Apple devices, but it certainly is an intriguing idea. Hopefully Apple has decided to not attach the cellular antenna to the sensor points. Sorry, couldn’t resist throwing in a reception problem joke there.

The technology holds promise for eliminating the need to unlock your iOS devices every time you want to use them, and even can do contextual, virtual button configurations on the fly. It also may eliminate the need to lock a screen into an orientation by figuring out how you are holding it. With Apple apparently charging into new technologies that can completely eliminate buttons and complement their touchscreens, it kind of makes me wonder why some companies are still bothering to produce non-touchscreen smartphones. They just seem so 1990s in comparison.

I doubt the technology will be seen in the iPad 2, but it could pop up later models and eventually even the iPhone and iPod touch. Issues such as how easy the patent implementation is to use are still going to have to be figured out. Also, something tells me you won’t be able to use a case with a device using the technology. That might be a deal breaker.

Let me know in the comments if the idea of Apple dumping all the buttons is something that you would be comfortable with.


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