In future versions of the iPhone, the iconic Apple logo that’s always visible on the back of the phone may no longer be just for show. As revealed by a newly-unveiled patent filing, the integration of biometric sensors could make the Apple logo on the back of your next iPhone into a useful feature of the smartphone.
Mikey Campbell at Apple Insider spotted a newly-filed patent application that reveals Apple’s latest approach to making its devices continuously thinner and lighter. The company is researching ways to incorporate heart rate monitors, skin conductivity sensors, and other electrically conductive inserts into the iconic Apple logo on the back of all iPhone and iPad models.
Patent application no. 20150185055, titled “concealed electrical connectors,” details an electrical system that would integrate with the existing apertures in a mobile device’s chassis. According to the application, each of those apertures defines “a portion of a symbol used to identify the device. Conducting inserts may be positioned within the apertures to provide externally-accessible electrical connectors. The electrical connector may be used as a portion of a sensor or a charging circuit.”
In some embodiments described by the patent application, electrically conductive inserts are embedded into one or more apertures within the device’s chassis. In some designs, the inserts are concealed under existing marks, while others use inserts that are made of materials that contrast with the surrounding metal, which would enhance the visibility of the logo. A product logo, word, phrase, glyph, letter, or other symbol could conceal a number of different electrical contacts.
The application explains, “In some embodiments, the symbol may be a portion of a product logo or, in other embodiments the symbol may include at least a portion of a glyph. Other embodiments may include a symbol that may be a portion of a word. The first and second insert may be a letter, a portion of a letter, a counter of a letter (e.g., a region enclosed within the boundaries of a letter), or more than one letter within the word. ”
In other designs, Apple explains that optical sensors could be placed beneath transparent glyph sections, images optically opaque radio frequency windows, and explains multi-use applications. Apple explains that “multiple connectors may be required to include multiple sensors in an electronic device,” so inserts can be paired to complete electrical circuits.
With regard to the kinds of sensors that the system could enable Apple to build into an iPhone or iPad’s surface, the patent application mentions biometric technology like skin conductivity sensors, heart rate sensors, and fingerprint readers. Campbell notes that more “robust” implementations could be used for charging and docking mechanisms, including contact solutions like MagSafe. The system could also enable Apple to implement an inductive charging system like the one it introduced with the Apple Watch, but the application does not mention any such implementation. Campbell explains that, as with any application filed by or patent granted to Apple, there’s no telling whether or not the technology will show up in one or more of Apple’s products.
However, the system seems particularly well-suited to the company’s current product lineup. With the iPhone 6, Apple made the switch from a polished rear logo to an embedded design filled with stainless steel. The amount of space that the logo takes up is, in Campbell’s estimation, more than enough room to hold a variety of biometric sensors, though multiple sensors would likely necessitate collocation over a wider area, like the letters of the “iPhone” indicia.
Considering the fact that Apple is already expected to get rid of the home button on future iPhones, the technology described in the patent application seems like a logical way for Apple to embed the fingerprint sensor needed for TouchID authentication into the body of the iPhone. The TouchID sensor could even be moved to the back of the iPhone, though it’s possible that Apple would need to create a button with a distinguishable tactile feel to enable users to find the button and unlock their phones.