An Apple patent (number 20100048241) has appeared at the Patent & Trademark Office that shows Apple is looking at new ways to use the camera on an iPhone -- and perhaps other devices -- in new user input ways.
The invention is generally related to mobile devices that have a camera function and that can detect vibrations and/or movement of the device. According to the patent, a portable handheld electronic device contains a camera lens and accelerometer to allow a user to control voicemail and call features by swiping his finger across the camera lens and/or tapping the device. Therefore, the user can comfortably input commands into the device with a single hand and without needing to move the phone away from his ear to apply these inputs. In another embodiment, the camera lens can also be used to control navigation of the display screen or a displayed document of the device. For example, if a user wishes to shift a scrollbar for a page displayed on the screen downwards to view the bottom of the page, the user should move his finger over the camera lens in an analogous downward direction. The inventors are Chad G. Sequin, Justin Gregg and Michael M. Lee.
Here's Apple's background and summary of the invention: "Portable handheld electronic devices, such as the iPhone multifunction device by Apple Inc., have a built-in digital camera, in addition to other functions such as cellular telephony and digital audio and video file playback. The digital camera has a lens that is located on the back side of the device (opposite from the display screen). Users can take digital photos using such a device. The photos can be stored in memory and shared by e-mailing, picture messaging, or otherwise transferring the photos to others.
"Typically, the camera captures images only when the camera function is active and is in use on the mobile device. While a user is, for example, browsing the Internet or making a call with the device, the camera does not capture images and cannot take a photo. To take a photo, a user first manually selects or enables the camera function, and then points the camera lens to a scene which appears as a preview on the display screen of the mobile device. When the user then releases the shutter, the image that appears on the display screen is captured as a digital photo.
"Multifunction devices also have a voicemail function that allows a user to listen to voice messages that callers leave in response to unanswered calls. The user can enter commands through a keypad or touch screen to fast forward, rewind, pause, and resume playback of voicemail messages during review. For example, while a voicemail message is playing, a user may select the number "3" on the keypad to fast forward through the message.
"A call function of the device allows a user to manage telephone lines during calls. For example, using buttons on the device, a user can merge multiple calls, put a call on hold, and switch between multiple simultaneous calls. Thus, a user can initiate features such as a three-way conference call among multiple callers.
"A document being displayed on a screen of the device can be navigated using a touch screen or using dedicated arrow keys next to the touch screen. For example, one can scroll through webpages of the Internet on the screen and select hyperlinks that lead to other webpages in this manner. If using a touch screen, one can navigate the screen using a finger to touch the screen directly or through the use of a stylus pen applied as a pointer to the screen.
"In one embodiment of the invention, one can control functions of a portable handheld electronic device by swiping a finger across a camera lens of the device. In other embodiments, the user can control voicemail functions by tapping the device, which causes the device to vibrate or move. In one embodiment, to access his voice mailbox, a user may tap the phone to cause playback of a message to pause, tap the phone again to resume playback, swipe his finger over the camera lens in one direction to fast forward playback, and swipe his finger over the camera lens in another direction to rewind playback. These actions allow the user to control functions of voicemail review without removing the device from over his ear.
"In another embodiment, functions for controlling call features utilize similar user actions or motions. Features such as merging multiple calls, putting a call on hold, and switching between or among multiple simultaneous calls may be controlled by single or double (or any number of) taps of the device, as detected by an accelerometer of the device. These taps may be preprogrammed by a manufacturer, or selected and programmed by a user.
"Furthermore, a user may navigate a document being shown on a display screen of the device by guiding his finger over the camera lens. While viewing the display screen, the user holds the device in the palm of his hand in a supine position. Rather than pressing or sliding directional buttons next to the screen or touching a touch screen to navigate a webpage document or contacts list, the user may move his finger over the camera lens in the direction he wishes to navigate the page. For example, gliding the finger over the camera lens in an upwards direction navigates the page in an analogous upwards direction. Doing so allows the user to easily steer the display of the device in any direction, with the same hand that holds the device.
"The above summary does not include an exhaustive list of all aspects of the present invention. It is contemplated that the invention includes all systems and methods that can be practiced from all suitable combinations of the various aspects summarized above, as well as those disclosed in the Detailed Description below and particularly pointed out in the claims filed with the application. Such combinations may have particular advantages not specifically recited in the above summary."