Earlier this month the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Microsoft revealing their research into applying a wide variety of touch sensitive sensors to both a front side bezel and/or a backside surface of future devices. For instance, in the future fingerprint recognition sensors could be applied to both front and backsides of a device. When the user picks up their device in a specific manner, their analyzed and verified fingerprints will be able to instantly unlock their device without any other security measures required. Backside sensors will also be able to control such things as video game movements, ebook page-turning and more by simply applying easy touch backside gestures. While Apple has been working on similar technology for the iPad for years now, they've yet to apply it to date. That leaves the door wide open. Who will be first to market with this idea? Only time will tell.
Microsoft's Patent Background
One of the challenges that face designers of devices having user-engageable displays, such as touchscreen displays, pertains to providing enhanced functionality for users, through gestures that can be employed with the devices. This is so, not only with devices having larger or multiple screens, but also in the context of devices having a smaller footprint, such as tablet PCs, hand-held devices, mobile phone, smaller multi-screen devices and the like.
Due in part to the small size of some devices and touchscreens, the types and number "on-screen" gestures (e.g., gestures applied to a touchscreen) that can be provided by a particular device may be limited. Moreover, on-screen gestures may interfere with content presentations in some contexts, such as by occluding a video presentation or a portion of digital book a user is viewing. Accordingly, traditional on-screen gestures and input techniques may limit users and/or may be insufficient in some scenarios, use cases, or specific contexts of use.
Customizable Touch Aware Skins for Mobile Devices
Microsoft's invention relates to skinnable touch device grip pattern techniques. In one or more embodiments, a computing device is configured to include a "touch-aware skin" which could cover substantially the outer surfaces of the computing device that are not occupied by other components such as a display device, camera, buttons, and other controls.
The touch-aware skin may include a plurality of skin sensors capable of detecting interaction with the skin at defined locations. The computing device may include one or more modules operable to obtain input from the plurality of skin sensors and decode the input to determine grips patterns that indicate how the computing device is being held by a user.
Microsoft states that various kinds of functionality provided by the computing device may be selectively enabled and/or adapted based on a determined grip pattern such that the provided functionality may change to match the grip pattern.
New Skin Sensors could be Part of the Device or could be incorporated into a New Device Case
Microsoft's patent filing states that the touch-aware skin noted below in patent FIG. 2 as #118 can be configured as an integrated part of the housing for a device or as an attachable and/or removable add-on protective case.
Further, the touch-aware skin may be constructed of various materials such as rigid metal, plastic, touch-sensitive pigments/paints, and/or rubber. The touch-aware skin may also be constructed using flexible materials that enable bending, twisting, and other deformations of the device that may be detected through associated skin sensors noted as #120. According, the touch-aware skin may be configured to enable detection of one or more of touches on the skin (direct contact), proximity to the skin (e.g., hovering just above the skin and/or other proximate inputs), forces applied to the skin (pressure, torque, sheer), deformations of the skin (bending and twisting), and so forth. To do so, a touch-aware skin may include various different types and numbers of skin sensors.
Skin Sensors Could Vary to Include Thermal Data or Fingerprint Recognition
Microsoft states that some skin sensors of a device may also be configured to provide enhanced capabilities, such as fingerprint recognition, thermal data, force and shear detection, skin deformation data, contact number/size distinctions, and so forth.
In respect to fingerprint recognition, Microsoft specifically adds that if a user picks up and holds a device in a ready to use position, the device may be configured to identify the user through fingerprint sensors, automatically wake-up, log-in the particular user, and/or customize the environment in various ways to match the identified user.
Alternate Wire Based Sensors
Microsoft also presents patent FIG. 3 below depicts another example of a computing device that includes touch-aware skin sensors that are configured as wire sensors (#302) disposed across surfaces of the device to form a grid. The wire sensors may be molded into materials such as Mylar, rubber, or other suitable device housing or case. As depicted, the wires establish a grid upon which various contacts points from a user's hand may be detected and tracked.
The skin sensors will be able to determine particular grip patterns and/or gestures applied to the skin of a device that drive particular operations and/or selectively enable particular device functionality.
Microsoft adds that skin interactions with the devices could trigger differing applications such as communication, game applications, application information exchange, and the like.
Additionally, device to device interactions may be enabled to establish a peer to peer connection, bumping devices edge to edge to transfer photos or other specified files, rubbing surfaces together to exchange contact information, and so forth.
Moreover, a user may be able to interact on the back-side of their device to perform browser functions to navigate web content, playback functions to control a video or music presentation, and/or reading functions to change pages of digital book, change viewing settings, zoom in/out, scroll left/right, and so forth.
Microsoft's patent FIG. 1 is an illustration of an example implementation of an environment that is operable to employ skinnable touch device grip pattern techniques.
Microsoft filed their patent application under serial number 352193 back in Q1 2012 and was published earlier this month by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
As you could see below, Apple has had a patent application on backside controls for a tablet for many years.
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