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Apple Nudge Gestures Could Change How We Control iPhones

Apple may make it easier to tap with precision on your iPhone. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office just issued the company a patent for "fine-tuning an operation based on tapping," or a gesture system that uses non-touch-screen surfaces to evoke actions on a screen.

Patent 9,086,796 describes a system of "nudging," which would manipulate on-screen objects, similar to how finger tapping and swiping on a touch screen would, but with more precision. For example, an accelerometer and gyroscope on the right side of an iPhone could detect a small nudge and move an object, such as a graphic or text in a document, to the left one pixel.

In turn, the same sensors placed on the left side of the device could move the object to the right. The system would also be sensitive enough to detect the force of the nudge, allowing the user to move things by just one pixel or by many pixels, thereby moving the objects shorter or longer distances on the display.

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It appears this technology is focused on exactitude: touch screens can be a pain when you want to highlight a small word or even a singular letter, and this gesture system wants to make that easier. This system could be great for selecting short pieces of text in a document or editing photos with more precision.

Apple isn't the first to make use of the non-touch screen areas of a device. The new Nubia Z9 smartphone by ZTE has edge gestures that let you slide your fingers along the edge of the handset to dim or brighten the display, control volume, or unfurl your notification menu from the top of the display.

There's no telling when we could see a nudge gesture system in an Apple device, but it's just another way the company wants to give its customers more ways to interact with its phones without necessarily changing the look and feel of the hardware. Recently, Apple introduced Force Touch on its new MacBook and Apple Watch, a gesture feature that can detect the difference between a quick tap and a long press.

According to various reports, Force Touch is slated to come to the iPhone 6S this fall, but we'll have to wait and see if nudging makes it into this device or its successor.

Valentina Palladino is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Follow her at @valentinalucia. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.