Subaquatic Interface: Apple’s Revolutionary iPhone Innovation

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Detail from the patent showing an iPhone user taking photographs underwater

Screen Time may need to add a new category — Apple has been researching how to help users work on their iPhone while swimming.

There is a huge amount you can do with an Apple Watch Ultra underwater, from depth measurements to telling the time. But that clearly isn’t enough for everyone, because a newly-granted patent shows that Apple is really serious about making the iPhone work underwater.

“As electronic devices are manufactured to be water resistant or water proof, some users are using their electronic devices while engaging in water based activities or other activities that cause their electronic devices to come in contact with water or other liquids,” says Apple. “Users will, in some circumstances, operate their electronic devices while the electronic devices are wet.”

With iPhones being increasingly more water proof, it does definitely follow that it’s possible to use them underwater — even if it doesn’t follow that you will want to. The text of Apple’s patent assumes that people will want to play videos underwater, use “a drawing application [or] a presentation application (e.g. Keynote)…”

The drawings in the patent, though, suggest a more practical or at least a more likely use than presenting slides to sharks. They show a user wanting to take photos of fish and that leads in to the real purpose of this proposal.

Apple wants to make it much faster to do certain tasks on an iPhone, and it’s not above being critical of how users have to work their way around the current system.

“[Methods] for performing these navigations and animating the transition between related user interfaces in a user interface hierarchy are cumbersome and inefficient,” continues Apple. “In addition, these methods take longer than necessary, thereby wasting energy.”

“This latter consideration is particularly important in battery-operated devices,” it says. “Additionally, abrupt transitions between different user interfaces can be distracting and jarring for users, reducing the efficiency and enjoyment of the user when using the device.”

Apple hammers that point home, too, saying that the way people have to use their iPhones now are “outdated, time consuming, and inefficient.”

An underwater iPhone can display a simplified menu of controls

Consequently, the patent proposes a better way — at least while the iPhone is underwater. “[It] provides electronic devices with faster, more efficient methods for accessing underwater user interfaces and interfaces for interacting with an electronic device while the electronic device is under water.”

The idea is really just that, as with the new Assistive Access in iOS 17, an iPhone can be made to show only its main functions. Instead of the regular homescreen of apps, a user can be presented with half a dozen enlarged buttons with functions like “Camera,” “Messages,” and so on.

“Such methods and interfaces optionally complement or replace other methods and interfaces for interacting with an electronic device while the electronic device is under water,” says Apple’s patent.

This patent is credited to 16 inventors, the majority of whom previously worked on a patent for underwater photography that was granted in 2020.

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