Apple’s next-gen iPod patent shows ‘touch-surface’ on back, ‘ghost’ controls on front screen

“The newest iPod patent says that the touch and the screen don’t have to go together. The next gen iPod will have a display surface covering the front, and a non ‘coplanar’ touch surface on the back. Here’s how it’ll work,” Gizmodo reports.

“The front screen of the iPod or iPhone Nano shows everything, but is no more touchy-feely than your iPod’s screen today. When you touch the backside, however, transparent ‘ghost’ controls appear on the front. You’d then use your finger on the backside of the device to navigate your way through the transparent controls up front. The key to the equation is force sensitivity. As you run your finger along the backside, the cursor hovers, but when you press harder, you can click on things,” Gizmodo reports.

“Apple’s patent covers not just music and video navigation but phone controls and more,” Gizmodo reports.

Full article here.

United States Patent Application #20070103454 (filed: January 5, 2007; published: May 10, 2007):

Back-Side Interface for Hand-Held Devices

An electronic device uses separate surfaces for input and output. One of the surfaces (e.g., the bottom) includes a force-sensitive touch-surface through which a user provides input (e.g., cursor manipulation and control element selection). On a second surface (e.g., the top), a display element is used to present information appropriate to the device’s function (e.g., video information), one or more control elements and a cursor. The cursor is controlled through manipulation of the back-side touch-surface. The cursor identifies where on the back-side touch-surface the user’s finger has made contact. When the cursor is positioned over the desired control element, the user selects or activates the function associated with the control element by applying pressure to the force-sensitive touch-surface with their finger. Accordingly, the electronic device may be operated with a single hand, wherein cursor movement and control element selection may be accomplished without lifting one’s finger.

Full patent application here.

AppleInsider also covers the story here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Bizarro Ballmer” for the heads up.]


  1. I can’t see the scroll wheel being too difficult because they can surely build in good error correction and because you’re only touching in one place then any movement you make is in relation to that touch, if you move your finger off and on, they can just reposition the control to suit your starting point. With buttons for numbers and letters you’d have to make numerous touches and know where each one was in relation to the other, without visual feedback and being able to feel the buttons I would think it would be far too difficult to work.

  2. Good for pointing, not good for multifinger gestures. One-handed ergonomics on a device as small and thin as an iPod Nano or an iPhone are great, with the index finger doing the pointing, but the idea of doing pinch/squeeze is not so good. Neither does it help to do it two-handed. For that, one needs two hands and a front surface.

  3. @Random Coolzip

    Think of it like the trackpad on a Macbook. The display & touch area are seperate but the input on the latter is displayed on the former. In this case, just happens to be on the _back_ of the display…

    Definitely will take some practice but being Apple, they would have thought of all the aspects of the UI…

    Pretty cool! ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”wink” style=”border:0;” />

  4. This would allow them to make devices that are even smaller than now without having two (battery-consuming) screens front & back, yet still remain useful.

    I would hate to be an Apple Engineer. Steve works out what the ideal device would be then says ‘build it’.

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