Apple patents dreams of iPhones that work flawlessly underwater

Apple is researching methods that improve iPhone usability when exposed to moisture-intensive scenarios such as underwater or rain. The main goal is to somehow improve the touch sensitivity of the display in such a scenario – or at least create a system that offers enough touch sensitivity to distinguish between a valid finger-based gesture and an accidental ghost touch caused by liquid contact.

According to an Apple patent filing, one of the implementations could include a Force Touch-like system – which Apple should bring back in full – that measures the force applied to the screen. This patent proposes the idea of ​​using a force input detection sensor or load detector to identify the point of touch and accordingly determine whether it came from a finger-based gesture or just a liquid squirt.

Liquid spill on iPhone 13 Pro

There are several technical ways in which the proposed system could be brought to life. For example, the ambient light sensor gets things moving when it detects that the amount of ambient light has decreased due to moisture above the sensor or in the case of underwater activity. The ambient light sensor serves here as an environmental sensor, as required by the patent.

However, a pressure sensor that can detect events of immersion in water can also serve as an environmental sensor. An electromagnetic sensor that emits radiation such as infrared waves can also be used as an environment sensor to check whether the surrounding space is underwater or covered with water.

The camera array can also be used to perform a depth analysis of its surroundings by examining optical properties. This includes the refractive index of the surrounding medium as well as the light absorption pattern to be analyzed when the device is immersed in liquid. The patent application knocks out the idea of ​​using a system of capacitors to distinguish between false touch and true touch.

If an environmental sensor detects moisture above the screen, the capacitance detectors help the processor calculate whether the touch input is from the user or from the liquid covering the screen. A certain threshold of change in capacitance across the screen is set, and anything below or above it is categorically identified as true or false touch input.

Improved hardware, sensible software

Aside from improving touch sensitivity, the patent also talks about optimizing certain UI elements to make it easier for users to use a device underwater. For example, the icons of the most used apps could be enlarged for easier access. In addition, the user experience of apps like the camera application can be simplified to make things more convenient for users.

iPhone 7plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Another suggestion talks about assigning shortcuts to some custom buttons that appear on the screen once the device is submerged or heavy humidity activity (e.g. rain) is detected. The idea here is that these customizable hotkeys allow users to quickly perform tasks like clicking on a picture, recording a video, or making a call when standard touch input is error-prone.

As good as the ideas above sound, keep in mind that this is just a patent application. To put it simply, it’s just an exploration of technical ideas that may or may not appear on an iPhone. But after reading a handful of Apple patents exploring wild concepts like a curved glass MacBook with an attached touch-sensitive keyboard, or an iPhone with the Mac Pro’s cheese-grater design, this one sounds doable enough to actually pull through.

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