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Apple eyes (yet another) multi-touch patent

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Ever since Jeff Han's deservedly famous demo of a multi-touch interface at the TED conference in February of 2006, gestural-display developments have continued to appear, from Apple's mega-successful iPhone to Microsoft's micro-market Surface computer.

In an application filing published today by the US Patent Office and entitled "Display Integrated Photodiode Matrix," Apple updated its own series of gestural-interface patent applications that were jump-started back in 2005 when Apple quietly acquired the pioneering touchscreen company Fingerworks.

The application that surfaced today builds on a slew of gestural-interface filings by Apple, such as the euphoniously named "Touch Screen Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Determining Commands by Applying Heuristics" of April 11, 2008, for which Steve Himself™ was listed as one of the inventors.

Today's publication, with its focus on proximity sensing, is a refinement to an application filed eons ago in computer years — September 20, 2005, to be exact — entitled "Proximity detector in handheld device," which described a technology for "sensing an object spaced away and in close proximity to the electronic device," and which could sense the difference "between light touch interactions and hard touch interactions." Specifically, today's publication refers to "one or more infrared (IR) proximity sensors [that] can be driven with a specific stimulation frequency and emit IR light from one or more areas, which can in some embodiments correspond to 'pixel' locations." The filing also includes a description of a "proximity sensing organic light emitting diode (OLED) display."

Such proximity sensing, according to Apple's filing, is "desirable because it can enable the computing system to perform certain functions without necessitating actual contact with the touch panel, such as turning the entire touch panel or portions of the touch panel on or off, turning the entire display screen or portions of the display screen on or off, powering down one or more subsystems in the computing system, enabling only certain features, dimming or brightening the display screen, etc." The filing goes on to claim that "the combination of touch panel and proximity (hovering) sensor input devices can enable the computing system to perform additional functions not previously available with only a touch panel."

We'll see. One thing is certain, however: Apple's continuing stream of gestural-interface patent filings — including those that involve physical contact, mere proximity, or both — indicate that the company remains active in its interface-improvement efforts. Someday we may be able to shut down our Macs by merely waving goodbye. ®

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