Apple has applied for a patent for a small joystick hidden within the iPhone home button.
The intriguing patent application, which has been discovered by Patently Apple, reveals a home button that would look and act normally in most situations.
However, supplying enough force would trigger a pressure sensor housed underneath, which would then cause the home button to pop out and become a small analogue thumbstick.
This thumbstick could receive X and Y axis inputs, as well as continuing to offer Z axis inputs – in other words, full directional control and a continued inward click function.
As that might suggest, this patent would have serious implications for iPhone gaming.
In the patent, Apple admits that touchscreen-only interfaces aren’t well suited to all types of games. For one thing, there’s an issue in the way that a user’s finger will naturally cover part of the action. There’s also a critical lack of tactile feedback in so-called virtual controls, which replicate the physical inputs of game pads as on-screen prompts.
Having a slide-out control pad, like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, wouldn’t be very Apple. But a pop-out, multifunction home button just might.
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Of course, the iPhone’s home button already has a lot on its plate at present, which Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint authentication system only coming into play over the last 16 months.
But if Apple could finally work some kind of analogue control stick into its range without compromising on aesthetics it would solve an issue gamers have been complaining about since the time of the iPhone 3G and its initial roster of games.