iPad finger touching

Apple Tuesday was granted an intriguing multitouch patent with a wrinkle: no screen display necessary. Instead of glancing down at your iPod during a workout to adjust the volume or skip past an annoying track, you simply touch the screen. The patent, first filed in 2009, opens up a number of potential benefits, including extending battery life.

Rather than your iPod nano’s screen displaying controls such as sliders, Apple envisions devices accepting multitouch user input even when a screen itself is blank. Not only would this open the potential for eliminating hardware controls, but the technology may also become part of everyday devices ranging from your iPhone, iWatch or even iGlasses, should Apple decide to compete with Google…

Apple describes its U.S. Patent No. 8,407,623 filing:

To allow a user to control media playback using a touch sensing device without requiring the selection of displayed options, the electronic device can include a mode or configuration for which the touch sensing device can sense touch events, but not display any content on display.

For example, an electronic device with a touch screen can have a mode in which no content is displayed on the touch screen (e.g., the touch screen remains dark), but the touch screen is operative to detect touch events of the user.

Among the potential multitouch gestures: a single tap could pause or play a song and a clockwise circle could increase volume. Although controls won’t initially display, an “overlay” connected to specific gestures may appear. In one reported example, a gesture to increase or lower the volume may prompt a volume slider to appear.

Apple patent 8407623 (drawing 004)Apple patent 8407623 (drawing 002)

While the advantage of an always active touchscreen is clear for users, the technology could also assist Apple as it branches out into other devices and looks for ways to provide competitive pricing, such as low-cost handsets or marketing to emerging markets.

By making the touchscreen both a display and input device, the company could further reduce the size of products, as well as reducing cost by eliminating rocker switches and related hardware.

Apple patent 8407623 (drawing 003)

Additionally, as competitors enter new sectors – ranging from wristwatches to televisions to augmented reality – the advantage of smaller inputs requiring little or no interruptions becomes clear.

Lastly, even if Apple simply puts this technology on a shelf, it offers potential revenue via licensing and perhaps even legal firepower against competitors.