Apple has a new patent application that describes a pop-up home button which can work as an analog joystick. The patent, uncovered by Patently Apple, describes how the button goes from recessed standard mode to extended gameplay-readiness based on specific types of pressure input. The patent acknowledges that touch screens may not be optimal for all gaming situations, and also stipulates that use of a hardware controller like the convertible home button will prevent a user’s fingers from obscuring visible screen area.
The patent includes drawings of an iPhone 6-style smartphone, which features the standard home button configuration. But when a user puts enough force on the home button (more than just a standard click) it can extend to just a bit beyond the surface of the display, giving it leeway to move left, right, up and down and accept input on the x- and y- axis, as well as the z-axis (a downward press from above, the only directional input supported by the current home button design). Switching back is as simple as pressing down on the home button hard enough to lock it back into place.
Other patent details include the possibility of adding additional sensors to the home button mechanism, including a force sensor, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a contact sensor, and optical sensor, a capacitive sensor, an ultrasonic sensor and more. That could make it a very comprehensive input device, which can detect more than a standard analog stick you might find on, say, a PlayStation controller.
It’s a brilliant design if executed correctly, but I suspect there’s a lot standing in the way of this being introduced in any imminent products, if only because the Home button is also sacred territory these days because of the Touch ID sensor, and building both into a chassis so thin seems like a big mechanical challenge. Still, it’s good to know Apple is thinking about unique ways to better serve gamers, even if only in theory.