The iPhone’s home button is already a crucial part of the experience — in addition to using it when you want to exit an app, the fingerprint sensor in newer iPhones lets you unlock your phone and verify your identity.
Now, a recently published Apple patent application provides more evidence that the iPhone home button probably isn’t going away anytime soon.
The patent application, published on Thursday, describes a system in which you could use the iPhone’s fingerprint sensor to actually navigate your phone.
Apple highlights a few specific use cases in the images included with the document. The idea is to expand the functionality of the home button by incorporating Touch ID into other use cases beyond verification and unlocking your phone.
For example, pressing down or holding the home button could launch the search function from the home screen. And, at the same time, the fingerprint sensor in the home button could be incorporated into games.
Imagine you’re playing a game that requires you to aim. Instead of pressing and dragging on the screen, you could rotate your thumb on the home button to adjust your aim, in turn preventing your fingers from obscuring what you’re looking at on your screen.
Apple also mentions the idea of locking your iPhone into either portrait or landscape mode depending on which way your fingerprint is facing.
On the iPhone, you can currently hold down the home button to activate Siri, double press it to see which apps are open on your phone, press the home button to return to the home screen, or hold your finger over it to authenticate iTunes purchases. Apple has clearly already expanded the home button’s functionality beyond its basic purpose, but the new patent application describes technology that would be able to read the intricate movements of your finger — not just how hard you’re pressing.
It’s just a patent application, which means it’s not guaranteed to ever become part of Apple’s products. Still, it comes at a time when Apple has been experimenting with new ways to interact with gadgets. The Apple Watch and new MacBook both come with a technology Apple calls Force Touch that can tell how hard you’re pressing rather than just where you’re pressing. On the Apple Watch, this tech is integrated into the screen and on the new MacBook it lives in the trackpad.
That being said, Apple has patented all kinds of eccentric ideas pertaining to the iPhone’s home button that probably won’t become a reality. Earlier this year, an Apple patent described a home button that could pop out like a joystick to be used with mobile games.