Synaptics ClearPad Technology, Fingerworks, iPhone?

MacRumors reported on the Synaptics ClearPad technology in August when Synaptics announced a concept phone (Onyx) based on their new "ClearPad" technology. The ClearPad is a capacitive touch screen (much like laptop trackpads) that offers these advantages:

ClearPad is based on Synaptics' proprietary sensing technology, and will offer unique capabilities such as two finger input, proximity sensing, text entry and high resolution finger input that can dramatically improve and enhance the user experience with a touch screen.

Readers will note that many of these features are identical to Apple's iPhone screen technology. Synaptics recently demoed the Onyx phone demo (video) at CES and described some of the relevant features.

One unique aspect to it is the completely flat face of the device - like the iPhone. Most existing touch sensitive screens that use resistive technology which requires an elevated bezel surrounding the touch screen. While this new technology gives the iPhone a sleek look, one disadvantage (or advantage?) to the capacitive touch screen is (much like your laptop trackpad) it is only sensitive to skin touch. This behavior was mentioned by David Pogue in his list of iPhone FAQs ("[The screen responds] ONLY to skin touch").

So does the iPhone use Synaptics' ClearPad technology? Gearlog indicates that Synaptics has not officially commented one way or the other, and Apple certainly isn't saying.

It's certainly possible that Apple has developed similar technology on its own. Last year we reported on Apple's touch-screen research as well as Apple's acquisition of a company known as FingerWorks who had done significant development in multitouch input devices (iGesture Pad). According to individuals close to the company, Apple had acquired the technology and Fingerworks founders Wayne Westerman and John Elias have since been working for Apple.

Despite closing for business in 2005, it appears that Fingerworks (Westerman and Elias) filed a number of patent applications in July of 2006 describing multi-touch input methods:

Apparatus and methods are disclosed for simultaneously tracking multiple finger and palm contacts as hands approach, touch, and slide across a proximity-sensing, multi-touch surface. Identification and classification of intuitive hand configurations and motions enables unprecedented integration of typing, resting, pointing, scrolling, 3D manipulation, and handwriting into a versatile, ergonomic computer input device.

Regardless of whether or not Synaptics is the supplier for the iPhone itself, analysts see high demand for Synaptics from industry competitors who will try to mimic the iPhone interface. According to MobilityToday, Synaptics' ClearPad technology will become available to OEMs "by the end of the year."

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