Multitouch casing could finally let Steve Jobs remove all buttons from iPhone [patent watch]

A new patent recently filed by Apple lays out plans to unleash iPhones and iPads covered with sensors that could make buttons like Home and Sleep/Wake obsolete:

"For instance, holding an iPad-style tablet with one hand could trigger the slate to activate the sensors on the other side of the hardware, so that only the controlling hand can use them. Meanwhile on-screen controls could be shifted across accordingly. Smaller devices could... react to individual or chorded input from the fingers holding the handset; that would allow for single-handed use of an iPhone, for instance."

Filed Tuesday, the patent states that sensors could be placed under a device's touchscreen, or even within its casing. This means that instead of having a homescreen button to press, one would simply swipe their finger along the bottom of the device to get back to their home page. (Sounds like Palm devices, doesn't it?)

Likewise, locking the device, or adjusting the volume, could use similar swipe related gestures in place of buttons. Apple's abandonment of buttons would also lead to sleeker, smoother idevices that would definitely fit with the company's reputation for creating ultra-modern, aesthetically pleasing products.

Rumors of Apple working on multitouch casings and bezels have been around for a while so while we never know if anything from the labs will ever make it into real, production devices, it does look like they're still actively pursuing the idea.

What do you say folks, is a buttonless iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch something that you would want? Sound off in the comments section and let us know what you think!


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Reader comments

Multitouch casing could finally let Steve Jobs remove all buttons from iPhone [patent watch]


Sounds more fragile than the iPhone 4. Wouldn't this also make using cases very difficult (volume buttons, vibrate switch, sleep button)?

the back of the iPhone4 is glass.....Apple could put sensors behind the glass which is inline with this patent......#justsaying

Ohh who cares about cases- they just make em aesthetically unpleasant ! Gimme buttonless awesome phone!! Yay

Chorded input? Sounds like Steve is going to force us to learn music in order to fire up an iPhone. I can see Steve playing the 5 notes from Close Encounters to activate his iPhone and to communicate with aliens.

Although this sounds very cool, I personally don't think its a good idea. I already get occasionally frustrated when trying to answer a call on my iPhone and I have gloves on (a near necessity for Montreal winters). I can't imagine having to take my gloves off just to increase/decrease volume. And yes I know that there is volume control on the apple ear-buds. However I prefer to use my Sennheisers, which unfortunately don't have volume/track controls.
In fact if it were my choice I would add functionality to answer a call using a double press of the home button.

Yes, please. I hate hardware buttons. They would have to address the case problem, though, and the ability to power on/reboot. I think they could get down to just one button, for power, and I guess the new sensors would have to go on the face somewhere, to allow for cases.

Would it be able to sense, from my pocket, when I walk into a meeting and switch itself into vibrate mode? Or maybe that could just be a simple calendar setting.
I think I'd miss the ability to quickly flip the sound off. I missed it on my HTC Touch.

Oh, and and having all those buttons is one of the biggest turn-offs with Android devices. They have, what four or six and maybe a trackball or d-pad, all shoved down at the very bottom of the phone. Not easy to operate with one hand.
I could imagine left-right swipes across the earpiece (top) section for volume and taps at the bottom to replace the Home button.

There is absolutely no reason to take away buttons.. If anything, I'd like to see a dedicated camera button added.

@Jason D - Good point. With no hardware mute it would be hard to discretely mute your phone. Or in the event where you forget to mute it, silence the ring by pressing the volume button through your pocket.

I like having some hardware buttons, but in my opinion I don't think this patent is all about completely eradicating hard buttons. I think it's more towards the idea of being able to do things such as pinch to zoom with one hand easier (thumb up front, finger on the back), and maybe webpage scrolling (holding the device with your thumb, middle and ring fingers and scrolling with your pointer on the back) so that your screen is less obstructed when viewing. This idea could also be applied to books on your phone or ipad, using a finger swipe to turn the page. We could even dream that you would be able to click links etc. with that same finger.
If apple completely got rid of hardware buttons it would involve having sensors constantly on even when locked in order to sense when you go to unlock it. On a completely random note, I wish we had sound profiles. I loved that feature on my original BB. The mute key could still be dedicate to mute, but the non mute would always go back to your chosen profile. Additionally I want the ability to edit my corrective text dictionary. There are some words I get commonly that are very obscure but close to common words and I get the obscure ones all the time. Alright that's my 2 cents on the issue.

At what point does this stuff just get absurd. This is ridiculous. Can you say "accidental input". Just like the idea of the antenna being on the outside of the device, this is a bad idea that Apple should probably shy away from.

I do not think that they will change the UI because the lot of us use one hand to interact with the phone leaving the back useless unless you continually use the phone in landscape. I would like to see the feature though as a welcome addition to the current UI.

@mrburns05, want a buttonless phone? Check out the Palm Pre Plus, No buttons there until you pull out the keyboard :)
As for this, wow, this is going to be so weird. Accidental inputs are going to be the norms with this design.

Yeah I'm over the hands thing too. This is a step in the right direction to go with UMC. +1 Apple.

The Pre still has power/lock, vibrate, and volume buttons on it. Only thing it doesn't have is a home button. Either way, all it does for me is make a good paperweight

@mike, in that case, yeah I don't want a button less device. The Pre Plus has the core buttons I need, just glad to see the front so smooth :)

No... completely without any physical buttons? Don´t like it. What about cases? If the back has sensors, you cannot lay down your phone on the front or the back, you cannot use cases and so on... I dont like it so far. Only thing is: For games like Jump n run... it would be cool so that the fire and jump buttons could be on the back. But again... I dont like it.

I'll admit the idea sounds rather ... drastic at this time, but I was also really reluctant to give up a physical keyboard. And now? I can't stand 'real' keyboards; too slow, too breakable, and a waste of space and weight on the phone. With this buttonless thing, I could definitely see them making the home button that way (hopefully with some sort of raised bump so you can press it without really looking at it, like the F and J keys on a keyboard). For the volume, sleep/wake, and mute ... that'd be a little weird I'd think. And I can imagine constantly pressing those things accidentally. Who knows, Apple has done crazy things before and gotten it totally right, maybe they'll figure something out with this.

I like touch but come on I need buttons too. For example " I know this will probably never happen" this iPhone is still phone but it's not as easy to make a call on it as a regular phone. I have to hit the home button, swipe to unlock, touch phone, touch keypad or contacts or favorites then make my call. I would love a dedicated talk and hang up button that I could just push. Yes I have an iPhone 4 have had a 3G and 3GS. I love the other things it can do and don't mind having to swipe and scroll for other features but just want the phone to be more accessible. After all there more phone in I"phone" than any thing else

Accidential touching of sensor buttons would be a problem until you were used to it. As many have already stated, cases would have to have holes, and may not look good.

I like the currant set of buttons, I think that Apple have got the right amount and any less would be taking away esenchals. Allso, the battery isn't that super at the moment, takeing away the buttons would mean that there would need to be another touch sensative screen that drains the battery

There will always be one button on any electronic device that must be turned off.
IPhones must be turned off to board a plane. Off means off.
Only a physical switch can power on a truly off device.

The direction in which elecgtronic devices are going is of a button-less future. Many of us (myself included) said that an all touchscreen phone is just not practical. Look at what happened. This is what it is folks...buttons are a thing of the past. Get used to it.