On March 14, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from HTC revealing a next generation smartphone display that will allow users to manipulate and control their devices without having to actually touch them.
HTC's Patent Background
Over the years, portable handheld devices such as smartphones have become prevalent. Many of these devices use various techniques for implementing touch sensing so that users can provide inputs to the devices. Typically, touch sensing is accomplished through the use of resistive or capacitive sensing. Using such a technique, a "touch event" is recognized by a device when the user's finger contacts the touch surface, which is often the outer surface of the device display. As such, the user inputs are two dimensional and require direct contact with the device.
In HTC's latest invention, they reveal that working on a new kind of touch display system for future mobile devices such as their smartphones using photovoltaic arrays. In doing so, HTC claims that user inputs could be advanced to a three dimensional space and not be required to ever actually touch the display. HTC specifically states the following:
In some designs "a three-dimensional sensing volume is created above the display so that a user can interact with the device without having to touch the display. Movement of the user away from and/or toward the display may also be sensed, in some embodiments, resulting in a vast number of user movements within the 3-D sensing volume that can be recognized as device commands, for example."
In HTC's example noted below, we see patent FIG. 6A illustrate a device (200) displaying an image (202) on the display. Note the size and position of the image, which is generally centered on the display and which takes up about 20% of the display area. As the user moves their hand towards the display, we see that the image is reduced as is shown in FIG. 7A – without ever touching the display. This is an accomplished responsive to a photovoltaic array of the device sensing a localized differential that changes in size and intensity due to the movement of the hand. While it's not the most practical example, it simplistically conveys the message of how this feature could work.
HTC's patent FIG. 1 is a partially-exploded, schematic view of an example embodiment of a smartphone that incorporates a transparent layer incorporating a photovoltaic array.
HTC's patent application 20130063493 was originally filed in Q4 2011. Below is a more detailed patent figure taken from a secondary patent application 20130065647 illustrating the photovoltaic array. HTC notes that they've integrated an Actuator on the display to ensure that a hand hovering movement can't accidentally end a phone call.
It's definitely a fascinating feature that HTC has dreamed up here. Though honestly it's something that will boil down to how well it'll execute on differing versions of Google's Android and/or Microsoft's operating system.
In the end, I think that it's a feature that could wow consumers if they pull it off right. And considering how well a job they did with their new sexy aluminum HTC One smartphone, I wouldn't bet against them.
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