This week, Apple's newly published patent applications include a rival to Samsung's Galaxy S4 "Smart Scroll" and "Smart Pause" features, as well as "pressable" flexible displays that add a new dimension to interactivity.

Apple's answer to Samsung Galaxy S4's "Smart Scroll" and "Smart Pause"

The US Patent and Trademark Office published an Apple patent application on Thursday that reveals the company is investigating "gaze detection" technology for its iOS devices, with functionality similar to the Samsung Galaxy S4's "Smart Scroll" and "Smart Pause" features.

The patent, titled "Electronic Devices With Gaze Detection Capabilities," is a divisional application – its parent was filed for in September 2008. Apple's renewed interest in such technology could be seen as a response to Samsung's "Smart Scroll" feature, suggests Apple Insider.

The technology described in the patent filing uses the front-facing camera on a portable device, such as an iPhone or iPad, to detect when the user is looking at the device's display and when the user's gaze is directed away from the device. If it detects that the user is looking away from the device, the screen brightness may dim in order to conserve battery power, or the device could even enter sleep mode.

In turn, when the user looks back at the device, the screen could return to full brightness or wake from sleep.

The technology could also be used to pause and resume video, Apple's patent filing notes.

The gaze detection can work with the device's built-in accelerometer to determine when it is needed. For example, when motion is detected, the gaze detection will be switched off.

Samsung's Galaxy S4, which was unveiled in March, has "Smart Scroll" and "Smart Pause" features that act similarly to the technology described in Apple's patent filing.

 

"Smart Scroll" allows users to scroll up and down in browsers and emails without touching the device, while "Smart Pause" can pause and resume video when a user turns away from the screen.

Samsung has already filed for patents relating to this technology, including "Eye Pause" patents and a "Samsung Smart Scroll" trademark. In addition, Samsung also has a patent titled "Apparatus and method for detecting speaking person's eyes and face," which was granted to the company back in 2000.

Whether Apple will implement such eye-tracking technology in future iOS devices is yet to be confirmed, but Samsung has been criticised for some of the S4's fancy features, with analysts questioning whether they may overwhelm some users.

"Pressable" flexible displays

A second Apple patent published by the US Patent and Trademark Office this week covers "pressable" flexible displays that could be used for future devices.

It's titled "Embedded Force Measurement, and relates to "a force detection system that detects force exerted on a flexible display based upon changes in resistance and/or capacitance."

What's being described here is a third dimension for user interactivity. Currently, Apple's iOS devices use touch displays that can detect input on a two-dimensional level, but Apple's new invention would allow users to push down on the flexible screen in order to carry out particular functions.

Why would we want that third dimension? Well, the technology could be used to detect how much pressure is being applied to the display to determine the result of the user's input. For example, it could be used for the GarageBand app to enhance instrument interactivity and performance, producing sound at a volume dependant on the pressure applied by the user etc.

Apple's rumoured iWatch is expected to make use of a flexible display, so perhaps the company could apply some of this technology to the speculated device. The technology could also be used for Apple's iOS touch devices.

Apple highlights OLED as a potential display technology. This also hints that the patent could be applied to the iWatch. See: Foxconn begins trial production of Apple's iWatch, report claims

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