Recent Apple patents point to upgraded features in the iPhone 6′s screen – potentially including the ability to listen to and map out the world around it using microphone diaphragms and sonar. Meaning, the iPhone 5 could ship with sonar capabilities.
The humpback whale, which uses sonar, just like an iPhone 6. Possibly. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia
iPhone 6 rumour: audio-detecting screen
Last week the US patent office published an application from Apple that covered the integration of audio sensors into its displays. This could apply to any and all Apple screens, of course, but a portable device could benefit from incorporating such elements into the screen and thus slimming down elsewhere, which we’ll come to shortly.
In the meantime, Patently Apple has more details of the audio detection technology that we think could pop up in the iPhone 6. The site explains:
“In one embodiment, Apple’s invention may take on the form of an audio detection system having a display assembly. The display assembly may include a screen and at least one electromagnetic energy emitter configured to direct energy at an inside surface of the screen.
“The described invention states that at least one sensor could be configured to sense the emitted energy after it is reflected from the inside surface of the screen and generate electrical signals corresponding the sensed reflected energy.”
An iPhone 6 that can pick up sounds through its display could help Apple to trim down the chassis slightly. But things get a lot more exciting when you start to consider sonar technology.
iPhone 6 rumour: sonar proximity detector
Back in October, Apple patented a method of using sonar for the purposes of proximity detection (switching off touchscreen functions when the phone is near your face, for example), reasoning that this function could extend to other features such as drop-detection.
Some ruggedised portable hard drives use drop detection to withdraw the spindles from their discs when they fall and avoid damaging the memory, but the iPhone is flash-memory based and has no similar options. So unless Apple also wants to come up with an integrated airbag or instant-hardening case drop-detection may not be key here.
Instead, sonar could potentially be used for real-time 3D mapping, helping the iPhone 6 to model the world around it far quicker and more accurately than its cameras alone. The potential for sonar-equipped augmented reality apps is enormous, limited only really by the imaginations of developers.
for imagining sake, sonar technology could enable a phone to detect when a large object is approaching rapidly, for example, and interrupt your music with a warning to step out of the way of an oncoming bus. Or the ability to model the world around you in the dark and present a lit-up view on your screen. Or an app for blind and partially sighted users that would issue precise walking directions to navigate them through unfamiliar areas. Or a handy personal sonar unit for submarine captains whose vessels are having technical difficulties.