If a new Apple patent is any indication, the touch surface on future devices could be in for a major change.
As reported by Patently Apple, the U.S. Patent and Trademark office recently awarded Cupertino a patent “that allows a touchpad or touch surface to simulate textures and temperatures such as cool metal or hot cement” underneath your fingertip.
Apple’s system “includes a touch surface, an actuator and/or an temperature control device (such as a Peltier device), and a control unit,” according to thepatent, filed in 2013 and published on April 23, 2015. The control unit, the patent explains, controls the actuator or the temperature control device to cause “at least a portion of the touch surface to simulate a material.”
The actuator would, for example, vibrate the surface to simulate the sensation of texture while the temperature control device would be able to “simulate the thermal conductivity of a material.”
Patently Apple says this builds on a multi-tiered haptics system for OLED displays Apple introduced in 2012. At the time, there was speculation that Apple might release an iPad with the technology, but that never happened.
“Whether simulated touch is still a consideration for future touch devices is unknown at this time,” the report notes.
Apple offers similar Force Touch technology on its MacBook and Apple Watch as well as 3D Touch on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. The 3D Touch display found on the 6s and 6s Plus supports multiple pressure points—push slightly for a preview of something (location on a map, a photo) and then push all the way to open it in full screen or the accompanying app, something Apple calls Peek and Pop.