Apple has recently filed a patent application for a layer of film to be placed underneath the screen, which can detect infrared radiation, according to Patently Apple.
Infrared radiation (IR) is a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths longer than those of visible light and shorter than radio waves, making it invisible to the human eye. Infrared radiation is commonly known as the heat waves that bodies emit when they “give off” heat.
Apple’s technology is mimicking the sense perception animals that use heat detection in their vision. For example, snakes have small indentations above their lower lips, which register heat coming from prey. Just like we humans develop a 3D picture of our world by processing light that comes into their eyes, snakes can augment this by integrating heat (IR) wave detection. Being able to detect heat allows the snake to strike its prey in total darkness.
The film that Apple is trying to integrate into its iPhone screens is essentially working the same way. Apple’s patent mentions that control circuitry can utilize IR light to sense where objects are in relation to the device. Potentially, it can be used to identify facial features or fingerprints more accurately. It can even detect and track a user’s gaze, the object’s location over time, and physical gestures provided by the user as input to the device.
Photo sensors are not a new product in smartphones. In a recent PaymentsJournal article, we noted that smartphones have a small infrared LED and photosensor located near the earpiece. This sensor measures the time it takes for pulses of light to return to the phone, which can be used to gauge the phone’s distance from other objects. Apple’s patent expands this technology to new applications.
Biometric passwords are having a moment right now, with a range of companies such as Amazon and J.P. Morgan developing biometric payment solutions in-house, and selling them to other companies. Apple’s foray into this domain fits the trend, especially as it searches for solutions to make its iPhones more difficult to hack.