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Just a few days ago we reported on rumours that Apple are going to ditch the home button on the front of the iPhone for a squeeze-the-phone to go home alternative. Now a patent from Google suggests they are going a step further in the quest to make the front panel of smartphones entirely touchscreen. The latest patents show touch controls on the back of the smartphone that can be used to control the phone, for instance browsing back and forward on webpages.

One of the main disadvantages of smartphone screens though is they need to be touched constantly to control the phone, leading to them quickly becoming covered in fingerprints and worse. Some materials are easier to wipe clean and repel dirt than others, but the fundamental problem is the same across all smartphones.

A touch sensitive back panel could really change this, as our fingers would be placed around the phone and would direct scrolling and other common tasks without ever touching the screen.

It’s unlikely that you’d be able to do more complex tasks with the back panel touch control such as typing or touching a specific area of the screen, but this would still remove the majority of touches which tend to be simple movements designed for scrolling.

One potential disadvantage of a back panel touch system is accidentally touching the camera lens where fingerprints could have a significant detrimental affect on picture quality.

Another is accidental clicks from holding the phone. Google has thought of this however and proposes a system that can detect clear tended direction touches and for those it isn’t clear on it can display a preview of the intended action to alert the user that if they intend to carry out the action they need to repeat the motion more clearly, or if they are simply resting their hand they need to be more careful not to confuse the device.

For those worried that the new features will only be available on Android, you’ll be glad to hear that a previous patent taken out in 2006 by Apple describes a similar process. Hence if Google’s patent stands both smartphone operating systems could get the new controls.

How likely this is to happen is put into question by Apple failing to adopt the technology in the period of which they’d had the patent. One reason for this could be the technology might have compromised design aesthetics that Apple were aiming for with the iPhone or the cost of adding a second touch sensitive panel might have been too high.

While Google’s patent diagrams show an android phone being operated, it states the technology could be applied to other devices such as Chromebook laptops, ebook readers and tablets.

Will the technology ever come to a phone? Well there’s more chance of it happening with Android than iOS because of the range of manufacturers and models being so much larger that one may feel confident to try it now Apple aren’t the only company with a patent on the technology.

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