iPhone 6 display 'to have 3D mapping sonar'

Could mysterious Apple patents point to augmented reality features in iPhone 6?

Recent Apple patent activity raises hopes of sonar and audio-detecting screen in the Apple iPhone 6.

Another day, another round of iPhone 6 speculation. Today we're wondering if recent Apple patents point to upgraded features in the iPhone 6's screen - potentially including the ability to listen to and map out the world around it using microphone diaphragms and sonar.

Yes, that's right: the iPhone 6 could have sonar. Can you say OMG?

The humpback whale, which uses sonar, just like an iPhone 6. Possibly. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

iPhone 6 rumour: audio-detecting screen

Yesterday the US patent office published an application from Apple that covered the integration of audio sensors into its displays. This could apply to any and all Apple screens, of course, but a portable device could benefit from incorporating such elements into the screen and thus slimming down elsewhere as well as in other ways, as we'll outline further in due course.

In the meantime, Patently Apple has more details of the audio detection technology that we think could pop up in the iPhone 6. The site explains:

"In one embodiment, Apple's invention may take on the form of an audio detection system having a display assembly. The display assembly may include a screen and at least one electromagnetic energy emitter configured to direct energy at an inside surface of the screen.

"The described invention states that at least one sensor could be configured to sense the emitted energy after it is reflected from the inside surface of the screen and generate electrical signals corresponding the sensed reflected energy."

An iPhone 6 that can pick up sounds through its display is a neat idea and could help Apple to trim down the chassis just a little more. But things get a bit more exciting when you chuck sonar into the mix.

Alleged photos of the Apple iPhone 6, according to an early rumour

iPhone 6 rumour: sonar proximity detector

Back in October, Apple patented a method of using sonar for the purposes of proximity detection (switching off touchscreen functions when the phone is near your face, for example), reasoning that this function could extend to other features such as drop-detection.

Some ruggedised portable hard drives use drop detection to withdraw the spindles from their discs when they fall and avoid damaging the memory, but the iPhone is flash-memory based and has no similar options. So unless Apple also wants to come up with an integrated airbag or instant-hardening case we're not sure that drop-detection is the key here.

Instead, we think sonar could (and could is the important word here) be used for real-time 3D mapping, helping the iPhone 6 to model the world around it far quicker and more accurately than its cameras alone. The potential for sonar-equipped augmented reality apps is enormous, limited only really by the imaginations of developers.

But imagine a phone that could detect when a large object is approaching rapidly, for example, and interrupt your music with a warning to step out of the way of that bus. Or the ability to model the world around you in the dark and present a lit-up view on your screen. Or an app for blind and partially sighted users that would issue precise walking directions to navigate them through unfamiliar areas. Or a handy personal sonar unit for submarine captains whose vessels are having technical difficulties.

See also:

iPhone 6 release date, rumours and leaked images

iPhone 6 release date rumour

Cheaper iPhone mini, release date, rumours and leaked images

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Tags iPadsmartphonestabletsAppleiPhonehardware systemsconsumer electronics

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David Price

Macworld U.K.
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