Apple in your home: Are virtual buttons the next big thing?

Beyond HomeKit, the tech giant may be priming for an innovative entry into the Internet of Things (IoT) home market.

Apple's Israeli team has applied for a patent related to virtual buttons for the modern connected home.

First reported by Geektime, local Israeli news site Calcalist says that Apple's Herzliya-based Israeli research and development center registered a new patent at the end of August which could shed light on Apple's future IoT plans.

The patent, which refers to "flexible room controls," describes how a three-dimensional sensor and a projector displays digital buttons on home surfaces. The sensor detects the position, height and movements of people in the room -- and will adjust the automatic display of virtual buttons accordingly.

The patent says that once virtual controls are displayed on a surface, a user can open an interface to control connected home devices such as air conditioning, television sets, stereo systems or smart lighting. The interface could be programmed to mimic true buttons, including on and off switches, knobs which can be gesture-controlled to dim lights, for example, or virtual thermostats could be altered to change the true temperature of a system.

The publication says another interesting aspect is the possibility of using the virtual display as a mobile device -- such as an iPad -- which would let users control buttons in the same manner as apps. A user could copy buttons and fire them on to another wall, remove them or drag them across the surface.

Just because the patent has been applied for does not mean that the iPad and iPhone maker will make use of it. However, the IoT and smart home market continues to expand, and having fresh revenue streams beyond mobile devices would only be a sensible path to pursue in order to stay competitive in the future.

Such advances in the IoT market makes sense for Apple, which has already released the HomeKit developer framework, a home automaton system designed to simplify IoT connections.

Apple is not the only company potentially exploring the concept of buttons which control digital functions. Flic, a recently released product, allows you to assign smartphone and Internet of Things (IoT) device functions to button clicks.

See also: Flic: The wireless button which brings the connected world into your home (hands-on)

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