Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Apple patent turns Touch ID into a trackpad

The Touch ID fingerprint sensor technology launched with the iPhone 5S has been receiving plenty of attention. Not too surprising, patents have started to emerge now related to the Touch ID technology. One such patent intend to use the Touch ID fingerprint sensor to create a form of trackpad through tracking the movements of a finger.

top touch id patent apple fingerprint trackpad
Source: Apple PCT/US2013/04188
Touch ID patent WIPO []
The Touch ID fingerprint technology launched with the iPhone 5S promised to change the way biometric information was used on smartphones. So far, the technology seems to have divided the users into two camps: those that love the Touch ID technology and those that are sceptical, mostly due to security and privacy concerns with Touch ID. However, Apple appears to be convinced that Touch ID contains revolutionary technologies that are worth to protect. 

Recently, an international patent application (PCT) under the reference PCT/US2013/04188 by Apple has been made public as it enters its final states of review. This patent application deals with means to use the Touch ID fingerprint sensor to act as a joystick as clearly indicated in the first claim of the patent application stating:
"1. A method, comprising:
at an electronic device with a fingerprint sensor and a display:
displaying, on the display, a first user interface;
while displaying the first user interface on the display, detecting movement of a fingerprint on the fingerprint sensor; and
in response to detecting movement of the fingerprint on the fingerprint sensor:
in accordance with a determination that the movement of the fingerprint is in a first direction, navigating through the first user interface; and
in accordance with a determination that the movement of the fingerprint is in a second direction different from the first direction, displaying a second user interface different from the first user interface on the display.

The technology is based on sensing the orientation of the fingerprint, such as a revolving, twisting or translating finger tip purely by tracking the fingerprint pattern. This is certainly very different from conventional trackpads that use either resistive or capacitive sensing to track the fingers. However, considering that fingerprint readers have been around for a long time and most have to implement some sort of finger tracking in order to extract reliable fingerprint data from a user, it is difficult to say to what extent the claims in the patent will be approved. Although the idea still makes a lot of sense as it is probably the most straight forward way to implement a trackpad or joystick-like device on the limited space that is available on modern smartphones.

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