Apple has just been awarded a new patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office called “Modifying functionality of an electronic device during a moisture exposure event” that could make it easier to use an iPhone in the rain. Sure, your phone is probably built to withstand some moisture, but that doesn’t make it easy to type on a wet display or with wet fingers.
Apple plans to have the iPhone screen adjust to the moisture whether it is light rain, a steady drenching, or if the handset is being used underwater. False taps on the screen generated by the liquid will be detected by the technology listed in the patent and eliminated. On-screen controls could change accordingly with buttons growing larger while also moving farther apart from other buttons to improve the accuracy of pressing the right button when the screen is wet.
At the same time, the capacitive iPhone display would automatically change to a pressure-sensitive screen similar to Apple’s no longer used Force Touch and 3D Touch technologies. To prevent rain drops or liquid from accidentally setting off touch inputs, Apple would require these finger presses to have more force than a dynamic threshold that would change depending on the kind of moisture event (light rain, heavy rain, for example) that is making the touch screen hard to accurately type on.
An image in the patent documentation shows an iPhone camera app offering settings for “dry,” “wet,” and “underwater” modes. Depending on the mode, changes are made to the camera UI. For example, in wet mode, some features are removed from the UI while in underwater mode, some controls are replaced with extra-large buttons. They are easier to activate underwater but have restricted functionality.
Image from the patent shows an iPhone in wet mode
The phone’s display will show the current depth of the device in order for the user to keep it within the limits of the handset’s water resistance. Apple will have to take care with the size expansion and the location changes of camera UI buttons to make sure that users do not get confused.
Apple receives so many patents over the course of a year and not every one results in new technology that is implemented right away. It is not clear whether Apple will be interested in implementing this patent right away.