Our exclusive report that the Force Touch feature in the new iPhones will be a more advanced form of the technology than used in the Apple Watch has been supported by what may be the patent behind it.

Prompted by our report, Patently Apple revisited a patent published in Europe in July and found references which point to the ability to measure three levels of force. While the technology used in the Apple Watch can measure varying levels of pressure (as can be seen in the animation if you slowly increase pressure, for example on the notifications screen), the measurement is translated into just two levels: a touch or a press. 3D Force Touch adds a third level of sensitivity … 

The report covered Apple’s invention that generally related to force sensing and, more particularly, to a temperature compensating force sensor having “two or more transparent force-sensitive components” separated by a compliant layer. So this morning I went back to the original European patent filing to see if “two or more transparent force-sensitive components” had a definitive third layer to make it 3D. I was pleasantly surprised to find that such a reference to Force Touch existed

The illustration above is accompanied in the patent document by a note that “the strain measured directly from the force-sensitive components 512, 522 may be approximated, in one example, as a sum of three components.”

It’s by no means certain this is the technology behind 3D Force Touch – the patent refers to using it to disregard temperature differences that might throw off the force measurement – but it’s a reasonable fit. Add in the fact that Apple initially filed the patent in Europe rather than the US, and it could indicate an attempt to disguise the upcoming enhancement.

We first revealed back in May that Force Touch was coming to the iPhone, and last month gave some specific examples of how the technology would be used in iOS. It’s expected that developers will take advantage of the three levels of force for gaming in particular. 3D Force Touch is also expected to be use on the upcoming iPad Pro.

Mark Gurman recently provided a full roundup of what else to expect from the new iPhones, including a new 12 megapixel camera with 4K video recording, an upgraded FaceTime camera, faster chips, animated wallpapers and a new Rose Gold color option.

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About the Author

Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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