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Apple is set to launch the all new 2016 iPhone — the iPhone 7 — this September. It is not as if the iPhone maker will release any shred of significant information about the device before the launch, so there is room for speculations, frankly lots of plausible and not so plausible speculations. Now here we are, speculating too — new patent documents indicates Apple is planning to integrate a special touch sensitive sensor to its “home button” which could mean the home button could now become, rather than a physical feature, a region on the screen with haptic feedback. Quite honestly, Apple files lots of patents and only a few rarely making it to the production line, nonetheless considering previous rumors, this patent is worth giving a second look.

Image credit: Techradar.com

Apart from being buttonless, the force sensitive technology envisaged in Apple’s patent documents articulates the possibility of a “touchless” iPhone. Weird right? Yes, but its entirely possible if Apple’s techies have any practical idea how to move those patent ideas from scientific lexicon to the production line. The patent titled, “Proximity and multi-touch sensor detection
and demodulation
” with US patent number — 9250734, essentially describes a “virtual keyboard” technology that will enable users navigate without having to touch the screen of the device. According to valueWalk blog the technology will likely utilize photodiodes or other proximity-sensing hardware connected to the iPhone’s current force-sensitive 3D touch to allow users to control the handset merely by hovering their fingers over the display and pushing virtual buttons created by bouncing infrared emitted from LEDs back into the photodiodes. The patent analysis also put forward some likely application of the technology —
“For example, an iPhone can be unlocked by a light touch with a registered finger, while a deep press unlocks the device and executes an operation like opening an app,” “Contextual commands might also be mapped to distinct pressure levels, such as replying to a recently received message with a selection of intelligent responses”.
iPhone 7 concept
Image credit: ConceptIphone

Slight Contradictions

For a proposed buttonless iPhone 7, a Galaxy S6 edge-like display that wraps around the side and offers an edge-to-edge touchscreen experience comes to mind. However, Since the iPhone 5, Apple has been using in-cell display technology for its phones, as by combining a screen, digitizer and touch input into a single layer they’re thinner and lighter than the glass-on-glass panels Apple was using previously. According to reports, “in-cell touch panels tend to be less sensitive at the edges, which makes it tricky to produce edge-to-edge displays.” This means Apple will “most likely” switch back to glass-on-glass screens for the iPhone 7 to achieve an edge-to-edge dispay. The problem with the technology is that glass-on-glass display are typically thicker than in-cell display. A thicker display means a thicker iphone, which negates every step Apple inc have been taking towards a sleeker and thinnner iPhone 7 so far. Nonetheless, reports claim touch-panel makers are already trying to create ultra-thin ones, which would allow Apple to keep the iPhone 7 roughly as slim as the iPhone 6 while using glass-on-glass display technology. Rumors also claim the touch panel makers have apparently already begun sending samples out to Apple but its yet to be confirmed whether Apple will have enough time to integrate the fairly new display technology into the iPhone 7 set for a September release.

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