iPhone patent just tipped a big interface change for the future

iPhone 13 Pro Max camera green
(Image credit: Future)

Using your phone in the rain is something that’s best avoided. Not because it’s likely to be damaging — the best phones offer high levels of water resistance nowadays — but because it’s a thoroughly miserable experience.

Water on the screen generates false touches aplenty, and something as simple as writing a short text message can become a tedious war of attrition as phantom words appear without warning.

It seems Apple has a patent in the works that might deal with the problem. First spotted by Forbes (opens in new tab), the patent (“Modifying functionality of an electronic device during a moisture exposure event (opens in new tab)”) explains how the iPhone’s built-in pressure and moisture sensors could detect water and adapt the software to make it easier to use in the challenging conditions.

For a little rain, this could be done in one of two ways. Firstly, the interface could physically change, making buttons either larger or spaced further apart, reducing the chance of hitting the wrong one by mistake. 

Obviously, that’s hard to pull off with a 26-letter keyboard, so Apple has another trick up its sleeve: adjusting pressure sensitivity. Essentially, a future iPhone could adjust the amount of force needed to register a touch, meaning that rain drops don’t register, but finger pushes do.

An image from the iPhone patent

(Image credit: USPTO / Apple)

The patent is more ambitious than dealing with a bit of rain, though, with the patent describing a fully submerged “underwater mode”. This would not only simplify the UI even further, but could even display your current depth to show you how close you are to exceeding the phone’s water resistance limits. 

For me, on paper none of these things would make me want to actively use my phone in the rain, but I certainly appreciate the intent, because there are times when you simply have no choice. Sometimes you need to send an urgent message, rain or no rain, and some of the best opportunities for photography occur in grim weather conditions. And that’s not even mentioning the impact of sweat on screens after a workout.

Still, it’s worth remembering that this is just a patent, and while some end up being integrated into commercially available products, there are plenty that don’t make the cut. 

All the same, it’s nice to hear that Apple is aware of how annoying a bit of rain can be when you urgently need to use your iPhone, and is looking to mitigate that however it can.

Next: With iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro on the horizon, you can read about the biggest rumored changes for the iPhone 14 camera.

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.