The iPhone’s home button has evolved greatly over the years. From a simple way to wake the phone or return to the home screen, it can now read your fingerprint through Touch ID. Now it appears that Apple has even bigger plans for the home button, which could bring the coolest functionality yet.
The patent is long and complicated, but in a nutshell, Apple proposes inserting two electrodes, each consisting of tines or plates, under the home button. These electrodes can measure the force applied to the button based on the interlacing of the electrodes. In the illustrations below, 140 is the resistive element, while 150a and 150b are the electrodes.
This would be very similar to 3D Touch, which is available on the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. 3D Touch gives you more control by sensing if you’re giving the display a lighter or harder touch. For example, a light touch could let you see some of the content of an email, which can be followed up with a harder touch to open the email. At present, 3D Touch is only available on the display of the phone, not on the home button.
Adding pressure sensitivity to the home button might not seem like a major change at first, but Apple has some interesting plans. One example presented in the document is the ability to have different responses for soft and hard touches. For example, when waking your phone, a soft touch might bring you to the home screen, while a harder touch might open directly to a particular application.
The second example is even cooler. Different effects could be presented based on the analog measure of the applied force. This means the home button could act like a dial or wheel, or even a joystick. This could make for some pretty amazing interaction with games.
It also needs to be noted that Apple might utilize this patent beyond the home button of the iPhone or iPad. The document specifically says that this technology could be incorporated into a number of input devices and elements. Such other devices could be the keys of a keyboard, a mouse surface, track pad, joystick, stylus, and more.
Of course, some patents never come to fruition, so we have no idea if Apple will ever implement this technology. However, we are hopeful that our favorite Cupertino company will show off this cool new tech very soon.