Patents are just patents. They don’t mean a finished product is underway. According to Patently Mobile, Google has applied for a patent for a touchpad on the backside of a phone.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a newly granted patent for Google last week that covered a possible new feature being tested for future Pixels. Google states in their filing that “It would be advantageous to have an improved touch sensitive surface that offers additional modes of operation.” Google’s patent describes a new back side touch surface area and a distinct recessed touchpad.
At first, this idea might sound ridiculous, but there are a couple of use cases of having a touch sensitive back. We have already seen the pressure sensitive HTC “squeeze” phone, and that seems to have impressed quite a lot of reviewers.
Having a touch pad on the back opens up your world to multitude of gestures. We have already seen many OEMs including activities that involve drawing certain patterns on the screen of your phone to launch an app or do a certain action. One of the downsides of this is that you have to always have the screen in an “on” state, which could potentially turn out to be a battery killer. With a touchpad on the back, one could draw, say, an “O” on the back, to open a certain app of the user’s choice.
A pressure sensitive back offers an entirely new dimension for game interaction. You could make certain characters move faster or run by pressing harder against the back of your phone. Developers could take advantage of the intuitive physical reaction to create more immersive experiences of gaming on Android.
A pressure sensor could sense position and accuracy of musical instruments being played around a device and help you modulate or bend notes by simply rocking a finger back on forth on the back of the device. You could trigger a recording by pressing a certain area inside a certain app if there was an API provided for it. One of the use cases would be to double tap on the back to take a selfie!
Location of the touchpad
The touch sensitive surface may be disposed along a housing of an electronic device. For example, in one embodiment the touch sensitive surface is disposed along a rear major face of a device housing. This configuration permits the front major face of the device to accommodate a display. The user can control the device, and data presented on the display, by interfacing with the touch sensitive surface disposed on the backside of the device. Placing the touch sensitive surface on the rear of the device both provides for simpler user operation in one embodiment and leaves the entire front side of the device available for the display so that a finger does not need to occlude the touch sensitive display to interact with the images on the display.
Google has said that in one of it’s experimental devices, the entire surface includes a capacitive touch pad. It is possible to implement this in a lot of ways! One could use a resistive touch sensor, a surface acoustic wave touch sensor, a surface capacitance sensor, a projected capacitance sensor, a mutual capacitance sensor, a self-capacitance sensor, an infrared grid sensor, an infrared acrylic projection sensor or the variety of sensor options available on the market. This could possibly be geared towards the in-house IoT tech that Google has been working on, such as Google Home.
What comes out of this patent can’t be predicted easily, since it is what it is—simply a patent. However, we find that there are a lot of cases where we can see this tech becoming somewhat similar to touchpads on laptops. I could totally see this tech on a next generation Pixel tablet or laptop, and perhaps on a phone as well. Only time will tell what comes out of this patent.