Future iOS devices such as iPhone and iPads may have knobs on their screens. Not physical knobs, but virtual ones. Apple has been granted a patent (number 9547,428) for a “system and method for touchscreen knob control.”
In the patent filing, Apple notes that with the popularity of capacitive touch screens and other touch-sensitive technology on devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, and desktop computers, software and hardware developers have focused on adapting user interfaces to take more effective advantage of unique features of this technology. While some user interface elements, such as a button, map very easily to a touch-based interface, other user interface elements, such as a scroll bar on an edge of a scrollable region, can be replaced completely.
However, certain user interface elements, such as a knob, are not typical to traditional graphical user interfaces and can present problems in training new users, according to Apple. New or inexperienced users may be unsure how exactly to interact with this type of user interface elements, causing apprehension, fear, and/or uncertainty for a certain segment of the user population. This, in turn, can reduce the approachability of a particular hardware platform as well as individual software applications running on the hardware platform.
Apple thinks a “virtual” knob for some apps would be very intuitive. Per the patent, the sensitivity of the knob controls could be adjusted.
Of course, 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.