Touch ID is currently purely used to unlock iOS devices and to verify your identify for Apple Pay payments. Apple may have bigger plans for the fingerprint sensor it uses on its iPad and iPhone devices, however.
A new patent granted to Apple and filed in May 20, 2013, describes using the Touch ID fingerprint sensor as a means to navigate through iOS. One might swipe across the unit and use it as a trackpad, for example.
In the patent, Apple describes “detecting movement of a fingerprint on the fingerprint sensor… and navigating through the first user interface; and in accordance with the movement of the fingerprint is in a second direction from the first direction, displaying a second user interface different from the first user interface on the display.”
One could take that to mean using Touch ID to access various panels of the home screen, for example, or swiping through a gallery of photos. It also points to gestures, like twisting or revolving a fingerprint, and different forces used on Touch ID, to execute different tasks.
Sure, a user could always just use the home screen, but Apple’s trying to find more ways to take advantage of Touch ID, especially since it already exists.
“Electronics devices with buttons with integrated fingerprint sensors are provided with faster, more efficient methods and interfaces for allowing said buttons to serve multiple purposes, thereby increasing the effectiveness, efficiency, and user satisfaction with such devices,” Apple says in the patent, noting that it could “complement or replace conventional methods for allowing buttons to serve multiple purposes.”
This by no means suggests we’ll certainly see an iPhone or iPad with this tech in the future, but it’s clearly on Apple’s radar.