More Sensors Coming to the iPhone...

by July 2, 2009

In Designing for Sensors, I outlined how ubiquitous integration of sensor technologies in consumer devices shifts how we think about designing digital products. Soon, instead of just designing for computing (productivity and data management) or communication (email, social networks), we'll be designing for sensors.

Today Apple Inc. revealed new patent applications that cover additional sensors which could be used in future versions of the iPhone. From Mac Rumors:

Haptic Tactile Feedback: Adoption of "haptic" display technologies which allow the user to "feel" different surfaces as their finger moves across a touchscreen. As an example, a display could include a virtual click wheel which vibrates at a different frequency at the center. Users could easily sense the difference and use the click wheel without having to look at it.

Fingerprint Identification as an Input Method: Fingerprints have already been used in computers for security purposes, but Apple's research involves the use of fingerprint patterns to actually identify distinct fingers. This could then be used to produce specific functions depending on which finger is being used.

RFID Reader: Apple suggests that an RFID antenna can be placed in the touch sensor panel itself, allowing it to also be used as a RFID reader. RFID tags are tiny chips that chips that label objects with unique identities and can be used to track items at a distance.

These three capabilities would be added to an already impressive list of sensor integrations.

  • Location sensor: precise location coordinates from GPS
  • User orientation sensor: directional heading from a digital compass
  • Touch sensors: Multi-touch input from one or more simultaneous gestures
  • Light/dark sensor: Ambient light detection
  • Device orientation & motion sensor: from built-in accelerometer
  • Proximity sensor: device closeness to other objects or people
  • Audio sensor: input from a microphone
  • Image & video sensors: capture/input from a camera (all kinds of signals can be found in real-time visual information)
  • Device sensor: through Bluetooth
  • Audio broadcast sensor: FM transmitter (rumored on iPhone)

Very relevant related reading (back from 2004 and 2005): The Future of the Object and Designers Shaping Things.