Patent report: gaze-based gestures, beefed up Touch ID buttons, more

Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product, so here are this week’s patent highlights: 

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20160034141) that would allow iOS and OS X devices to detect a “user gaze” and respond accordingly. The invention is for an electronic device with a display whose content can change based on changing context. 

For example, an autocorrect algorithm can automatically replace a typed word with a corrected word in a text field, generating a display event that causes the corrected word to be displayed instead of the typed word. Such a display event may be executed as soon as possible after its generation. However, a gaze detection device can obtain information that indicates a user is not looking at the typed word on the display. In such a situation, Apple says it may be more intuitive to delay the execution of the display event until the gaze information indicates that the user is looking at the typed word.

Apple has filed for a patent (number 20160033342) dubbed “force-sensitive fingerprint sensing input” that hints at future iOS devices with force-sensing Touch ID home buttons that could get some 3D Touch features. And — who knows? — it could also be applied to Mac trackpads as the patent application mentioned computer keyboard, mice and trackpads. 

Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,250,734) for detecting touch-free gestures at close range. Dubbed “proximity and multi-touch sensor detection and demodulation,” the invention would build on the capabilities of multi-touch and 3D touch to respond to fingers hovering close to an iPhone or iPad display, as well as use on keyboards and trackpads on desktop and laptop Macs. Apple says 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. 

Apple has filed for a patent that would allow the Maps app on an iPhone or iPad to tell you how long it will take you to arrive at your destination based on detected stops along the way. The iDevice can transmit traffic information to a server for analysis. The traffic information can include movement information including detected stops and durations of detected stops. The durations of stops can be associated with a time of day or day of the week or both. In some implementations, navigational routes can be determined based stop sign or stop light information or both, including the delays attributable to detected stop signs or stop lights or both.