Most high-end smartphones these days have a fair amount of water resistance – enough that you can confidently use them in the rain. Except, if you’ve ever tried to interact with a smartphone screen in a heavy rain, you know what a lost cause can be, with moisture leading to false taps. Apple might have a solution for this.
On a patent (opens in new tab) discovered by Forbes (opens in new tab) and strikingly titled ‘Modifying an Electronic Device’s Functionality During a Moisture Exposure Event’, the company details ways an iPhone can use pressure and humidity sensors to detect ‘humidity events’ – which can range from a small amount of water on the screen, when the phone is fully submerged in water.
Once a humidity event has been detected – and the iPhone has figured out how much humidity it is dealing with – the device will try to adapt to this to prevent false touches from being registered.
To help with this, the layout of the buttons on the screen can be changed, making them bigger, for example, so that they are easier to hit, or moving them apart. Some controls can even be removed entirely, leading to a streamlined interface with just a few large buttons to press.
Cleverly, the phone would also use its pressure sensors to ensure taps only register if a certain amount of pressure is applied – so a hard push with one of its digits would register, but a drop of water would not. The amount of pressure needed and the layout of the interface can also vary depending on the situation – whether it’s raining or you’re underwater, for example.
If you’re brave enough to use your iPhone underwater, it can also display your current depth, to help ensure you stay within the phone’s water resistance limits.
Review: Don’t count on seeing this soon or never
This patent sounds like a potentially great idea, but the caveat we always add to patents is that far more of them are filed and granted than are actually used for commercially available devices.
Apple is always thinking and trying out new ideas, but the vast majority of them don’t see the light of day, either because they’re too niche, too expensive, too difficult to implement, or probably for any number of other reasons.
So we may never see an iPhone that can be used comfortably when wet, and if we do, the iPhone 14 is very unlikely to be that phone – think the iPhone 15 or even later.
Still, more than a few patents, we’d love to see this come true. Underwater use cases may be niche, but they all get rain, so a feature like this can help Apple’s handsets stand out among the best smartphones.