Apple's latest patent describes a technique for tracking touch-input and fingerprints via IR LEDs

Apple has been granted a patent that describes an entirely new method of detecting fingerprints and touch input. This patent has the potential to transform smartphone design as we know it.

Traditionally, a modern smartphone uses capacitive touch screen technology – you may have heard of active matrix (AMOLED) displays. This technology essentially incorporates a matrix of capacitors over which a screen is placed. When you interact with the screen, the variation in capacitance is detected and the corresponding input is detected. Apple says that such technology requires “two separate devices to be layered together.”

Apple is proposing to replace this capacitor matrix with an infra-red micro-LED and IR-sensing LED array. These will be incorporated alongside the regular LEDs that make up a smartphone display.

As AppleInsider puts it, if a traditional smartphone display uses an RGB array, Apple is going for an RGBIRSIR array. SIR refers to Sensitive IR, the light sensing unit mentioned earlier. RGB refers to the Red, Green and Blue LEDs that make up each pixel of your display.

Image: USPTO

Image: USPTO

This system has many advantages, most notably, the display unit gets much slimmer as the LEDs are implanted in a single layer. One might think that this would reduce display resolution, and it does, but you only need a density of around 300 ppi for a sharp image and we’ve seen displays with over 400 ppi. A high-resolution, IR-LED infused display is within the realms of possibility.

But this is still not the interesting part. In its patent filing, Apple talks about incorporating regions with a higher-density of these IRSIR LEDs. These could, in theory, be used in lieu of a fingerprint sensor.

Image: USPTO

Image: USPTO

Qualcomm has been working on ultrasonic fingerprint sensor technology that could allow manufacturers to place the fingerprint sensor under the front covering glass of a smartphone. Apple’s patent opens up the possibility of a fingerprint sensor within the display unit itself.

While we’ve heard rumours that Apple’s iPhone 8 will have no bezels or buttons, we think it’s unlikely that this patent will apply to the iPhone 8. The technology that Apple describes isn’t even commercially available yet and it usually takes 2-3 years before we see real-world applications of such patents.

Apple isn't the first company to think of using IR for tracking touch input, but it's idea for implementing the technology is indeed unique, hence the grant of the patent.

Given the size of the Surface table, this was easily possible.

Published Date: Feb 15, 2017 04:51 pm | Updated Date: Feb 15, 2017 04:51 pm