Apple have filed a patent for a system controlled by fingers hovering over a surface, rather than necessarily touching it. One potential application for the technology could see it integrated into the capacitive touchscreen of the iPhone, allowing the handset to recognize non-contact gestures, shut off different parts of the display, or highlight specific touch-controls.
Alternatively, it could be used in a notebook form-factor, to track a user's hands above the keyboard and switching on and off the multitouch trackpad accordingly. Alternatively it could recognize gestures performed above the trackpad, or combination commands of touch and hover.
The system works by using an array of sensors that track infrared light, from LEDs or OLEDs, and measure its reflection off the user's hands. Apple describes such arrays either covering the whole display, mapped one to each pixel, or merely on specific hot-spot areas. As with all patents, there's no knowing when - or even if - Apple will ever include this technology in a commercial product.