The company is looking into ways of improving the usability of iPhones in situations that may contain moisture, such as underwater or in a rainy environment. In a scenario such as this, the key objective would be to somehow increase the display's touch sensitivity.
In an Apple patent application, it was suggested that one of the implementations could include a Force Touch-like system that will measure the force exerted on the screen - a feature Apple should completely bring back. According to this patent, force input detection sensors or load detectors can be used to determine whether touch inputs originated from fingers or simply liquid splashes.
There are multiple technical pathways in which the proposed system could come to life. Whenever the ambient light sensor detects that ambient light exposure has reduced due to moisture over the sensor or underwater activities, it will kick things into action. According to the patent, the ambient light sensor serves as an environmental sensor here.
The pressure sensor, however, that can be used to detect water immersion events, is a useful environmental sensor as well. An electromagnetic sensor that emits radiations such as infrared waves can also be deployed as a sensor in order to determine whether the surrounding space is submerged or covered with water.
The camera array can also be used to perform depth analysis of its surroundings by studying optical properties in order to conduct depth analysis. To determine if a device is submerged in liquid, we need to analyze its refractive index, as well as its light absorption pattern. There is an idea thrown around in the patent application that a system of capacitors is used to distinguish between 'false touch' and 'true touch.'
A capacitance detector will assist the processor in determining whether the touch input came from the user or the liquid covering the screen if an environmental sensor detects moisture above the screen. Changes in capacitance over the screen will be categorically identified as true or false touch input based on a certain threshold value set for changing capacitance over the screen.
The patent discusses not only how to enhance the touch sensitivity of a device, but also how to tweak certain UI elements to make it easier for a user to use the device underwater. Among the things that could be done is to increase the size of the icons of some of the most commonly used apps. Additionally, a simplified user experience can be created for users of apps such as the camera application in order to make things easier for them.
One proposal is to assign a few custom key shortcuts, which will appear on the screen as soon as the device becomes submerged or heavy moisture activity (like rainfall) is detected in order for the shortcuts to take effect.
This concept is based on the idea that these customizable hotkeys will allow users to quickly execute tasks such as taking photos, shooting videos, and making calls, among others, if the usual touch input fails.
It's important to keep in mind that the ideas described above are just patent applications. To put it simply, they are just explorations of technical ideas that may or may not, be incorporated into the iPhone itself.
After reading through a few Apple patents that explore concepts like the curved glass MacBook with attached touch-sensitive keyboard and the iPhone with the cheese grater design from the Mac Pro, this one sounds feasible enough to work.
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