A new Apple patent application hints at some of the advances the company has been working on in the area of touchscreen displays. The application, titled "Display with dual-function capacitive elements," largely centers around ways of making touchscreen displays whereby elements can perform both display and sensing duties, but it also repeats a key phrase that the elements can sense "touch events on or near the display." [Emphasis added]
From the patent application, Apple wrote, "This relates generally to displays having pixels that include capacitive elements, and more particularly to displays in which capacitive elements of the pixels that form part of the display system that generates an image on the display also form part of a touch sensing system that senses touch events on or near the display."
That phrase is repeated four times throughout the application, though it is not mentioned in the main abstract description, which instead focuses on describing the way in which doohickeys and thingamajigs are aligned and interact with one another.
We'll leave it to the patent nerds to debate whether that phrase means anything. A display that allows users to interact or input information without actually touching it could represent an interesting step forward in this arena. At the same time, however, the ability to make a display with fewer parts has obvious manufacturing cost implications, and it's certainly possible that this is the only innovation being pursued in this application.
The application was filed on September 29, 2008, and the innovations represented in the application may long ago have been added to Apple's iPhone product line, and it's also possible that this could be one of scores of patent applications that Apple (and many other major corporations) apply for that every year will never be used in a shipping product or service.
Of course, it could also be related to Apple's much-anticipated, but not yet announced tablet device.
The patent was published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office today, January 7th, 2010. It was first picked up in the Mac Web by PatentlyApple.com.