Amid weak demand for iPhones, Apple is expected to bring radical changes to this year’s iPhone 7 to give existing users a strong reason to upgrade. Now the Cupertino company has been granted a patent that has fueled speculations that users might be able to operate the next-gen iPhone without physically touching its display. The US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) granted Apple’s Patent No. 9,250,734 on Tuesday, February 2.

iPhone 7

It uses infrared LEDs to detect your finger or palm

The patent for “proximity and multi-touch sensor detection and demodulation” describes a technology that uses photodiodes or other proximity sensing hardware, and traditional multitouch displays to bring about the hovering effect. It allows users to hover their fingers over the screen, rather than touching the display, to let the iPhone know their intent.

iPhone 7 Patent

Apple Insider points out that the technology is somewhat similar to 3D Touch, but a major difference is that it “shifts the user interaction area beyond the screen.” It includes a capacitive sensing element disposed throughout the LCD screen with proximity sensors to collect information that would allow the system to detect a palm, finger or other objects hovering over the display surface.

The photodiodes are connected to the same analog channels as physical touch sensors. It will help the device save power and space. Users can “push” virtual buttons to trigger different functions without touching the display surface. The patent document suggests the use of infrared LEDs. The light produced by the LED bounces off your finger and gets captured by photodiodes.

Apple unlikely to use this technology in iPhone 7

Will the technology be used in the iPhone 7? Probably not. Apple is granted hundreds of patents every year, and not all of them make way to the final products. Meanwhile, the company is still looking to fully utilize its 3D Touch technology. The iPhone 7 is expected to arrive in September with a slimmer form factor, dual-lens camera, and without the traditional 3.5mm headphone jack.