Behind the scenes, Apple is thinking about integrating tiny infrared sensors inside a multi-touch display. Pixels would emit infrared light and monitor reflected signals. If the infrared light bounces back, it means that there is a finger above this area of the display.
As always with Apple patents, the company doesn't exclude using this technology with trackpads and keyboards. It would be a good way to disable a trackpad if a large portion of the trackpad is covered with the user's wrist. But this technology makes more sense with iPhone displays.
Apple has already added another layer of interactions with 3D touch. Before 3D Touch, users could only tap, swipe and pinch on their display. Now there are two levels of pressure-sensitive gestures as well. And hovering gestures would add another set of gestures.
For instance, it could replace the long press gesture that lets users trigger the magnifying glass and move their cursor in a text area. It could also let Apple remove the proximity sensor that turns off the display when the user is calling someone.
And of course, it would make a lot of sense to use this technology with the Apple Pencil. For example, users could hover over a drawing and press a button to erase an area. Samsung has already integrated hovering gestures into the Galaxy Note phones.
In 2013, Apple acquired PrimeSense, the company behind the original Kinect sensor. Today's patent shows that Apple is still working on new ways to interact with new devices without physically making contact. But it’s unclear if or when Apple plans to use this patent in production devices.