Future Apple devices may have invisible buttons and sliders

Apple goes a long way to make its devices perfect and attractive, but it wants to go further and create controls that are invisible until you need them.

Apple already goes to great lengths to hide device elements that other manufacturers wouldn’t even think about. Just look at the light that tells you that a Mac mini is on.

If that device is not turned on, there is no light. That does not mean that the light is off, that it is blank, but rather that it has faded.

You may call it over-engineering and you may call it unnecessary, but Apple’s great attention to detail, and the company wants to do more.

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“Disappearing Button or Slider” is a recently disclosed patent application showing Apple wants to make controls as invisible as lights, when that’s the right thing to do.

“In the world of consumer devices, and consumer electronics in particular, there is a constant demand for improved looks, improved functionality, and improved aesthetics,” says Apple. “Industrial design has become a highly skilled profession that focuses on meeting this need to improve the appearance, functionality and aesthetics of consumer products.”

“One area that receives attention for improvement, particularly in consumer electronics, is the input and user interface,” he continues. Apple then lists common features, from buttons to click wheels, and touchscreens to trackpads.

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“A challenge with these known input devices is that they can detract from the aesthetics of the device by interrupting the continuity of the device’s housing,” the patent application says. “To illustrate, compare a mobile phone that has a traditional keyboard with the iPhone …”

Fortunately it is not a real future Apple product. But the “invisible” control at the top is coming.

“The iPhone has a touch-sensitive flat screen that features an eye-catching, seamless design, while the traditional mobile phone features a messy array of keys and buttons,” continues Apple.

This patent application is pretty cheeky about how it primarily relates to the looks of something rather than its function, but it also justifies making the iPhone-like design more practical.

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“In addition to the obvious aesthetic advantages of having a seamless design, a seamless design can have improved functionality and / or durability,” he says. “For example, a traditional mechanical keyboard can wear out over time and / or be ruined by dirt or moisture entering the openings in the device’s case. These openings are necessary to accommodate traditional keys and buttons ”.

So the purpose of this patent application is to establish methods to repeat the Mac light trick, only with controls or any kind of input device. Apple proposes that some input devices could use “deflection-based capacitive sensing” to function.

“The deflection of a metallic structure of the input device causes a change in the capacitance that is used to control a function of an electrical device,” he explains. “The input device appears invisible because it is made of the same material as the housing in which it is contained. The invisible backlit holes can make the entrance selectively visible or invisible to the user ”.

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Whichever device it can be used for, the principle is that there is a “capacitor reference” on an “inner surface”, which has invisible holes.

“When an object is placed in the frame in the area of ​​the invisible holes and pressure is applied, the frame deforms,” ​​says Apple. “This deformation causes a change in capacitance between the capacitive reference and the capacitor plate. The capacitor sensor detects this change and converts it into an electrical signal ”.

Once you can create an electrical signal, the device hardware and software can use it to perform any required action. However, there have to be practical limits to this, as Apple is unlikely to believe it can make a full keyboard with invisible keys.

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Future Apple devices may have invisible buttons and sliders

Patent detail showing one (of many) ways to determine when an invisible control has been pressed

However, you could have an invisible on / off switch, for example, to match the Mac’s invisible on / off light. You could add a slider to a HomePod mini.

Apple could add invisible controls to anything, as long as the user is clear where they are. It’s nice to have an invisible control that doesn’t interrupt or detract from what a device is doing.

It’s a less good thing when the volume is hurting your ears and you can’t see where to turn the volume down.

“Therefore, there is a need for commercially feasible device display systems with improved aesthetics that discreetly provide information as appropriate, but do not otherwise distract or detract from user experience or device performance,” he says. Manzana. “Preferably, selected elements of such display systems would also become invisible in their inactive states.”

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