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Apple has a brilliant way to make one-handed iPhone use great again

Remember how Apple used to make a big deal about the iPhone being the only smartphone that you could easily operate with one hand? It was a constant argument against increasing the iPhone’s screen size. But the company eventually launched iPhones that have displays bigger than the four-inch screen Apple used for years, and one-hand operation isn’t as easy.

Apple created a new home button gesture called Reachability (image above) that’s helps, but some people rarely use it. The company now has an even better idea for fixing one-hand operation on the iPhone, which might be better than shrinking down the display, as Samsung does it on some of its flagships.

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Detailed by TechFyt, the patent describes technology that would allow the iPhone to detect which hand is holding the phone. Once it figures it out, the iPhone would automatically transition on-screen user interface elements towards the area of the display where it thinks your thumb is, allowing you to reach them easier than before (see the image below).

iphone-one-handed-operation-patentImage source: Apple

How will Apple be able to tell which hand you’re using to hold the iPhone? It could interpret a variety of info from internal sensors including the accelerometer and the gyroscope. The patent says that it could also pay attention to the finger you use to “slide-to-unlock” the screen. However, we’d point out that slide-to-unlock is going away, as iOS 10 replaces it with a press-home-to-unlock gesture.

The iPhone could also monitor registered touches on the screen, and even on the phone’s body, to decipher between left- and right-handed operation. TechFyt reminds us that Apple is already exploring such technology for the Apple Pencil, which could feature sensors on its body in future generations.

In the future, Apple is expected to launch an iPhone with a wraparound display, with a front and back that would be made of glass. The phone would likely have 3D Touch sensors on both sides. In that case, the iPhone could easily determine which hand the phone is being held in, though no such setup is described in this patent.

As always with Apple patents, this tech might never make it into commercial products.

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.