• Apple Patent Shows iPhone Control Via Camera

    Apple's patent applications are an interesting way of keeping track of what the secretive company is working on for future products. These patents are revealed often years later, but because of the long product lifecycle often reveal details of technologies that are still in development. Today's revelations are a mixed bag: a new security method that lets users hold physical objects up to the screen for authentication; and a cool new way of controlling your iPhone without touching the screen, by swiping your finger over the camera.

    Patently Apple details the camera control technology, including some of the drawings included in the application. This invention deals with the common problem of how to control your iPhone when you're holding it to your head, for example when you are listening to your voicemail. While playing a message back, without having to take the phone away from your ear, you'd be able to rewind the message by swiping your finger across the camera in one direction, and fast forward it by swiping in the other direction. To stop rewinding or fast forwarding, you tap your finger against the phone (not the camera). A tap can also be used to pause playback at normal speed. This is a slick innovation that would make voicemail a lot more usable in a single stroke, and would not appear to require any additional hardware: it should be something that can be implemented in a future release.

    The patent also describes using the same or similar swipes to control other applications. You'd use the camera in much the same way as you'd use scroll bars: a swipe down moves the screen or selection upward, and a leftward swipe moves the screen right. This alternate scrolling method would be very useful in situations when for whatever reason you need to control the screen without hiding it with your finger, or where touching the screen would be interpreted as a tap or drag.

    The other patent application shows a way to use physical objects held up to a touchscreen computer - which are called "signets" in the text of the application - to allow a user to log in or perform different actions like launching a program, opening a file, or encrypting or decoding a message, etc. The whole idea of coming full circle back to using a physical key rather than a password is interesting, but more notable is the fact that Apple was thinking about touchscreen computers way back in 2004, when this application was made. Last month, the Taiwanese website DigiTimes had a report that asserted Apple would be unveiling a 22-inch touchscreen iMac in 2010.
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