Apple could be planning to upgrade the Touch Bar on MacBook Pro models so it’s capable of detecting in-air gestures made by the user’s fingers. In other words, you won’t actually need to touch the bar to use it.
At any rate, going by a patent (filed with the US Patent & Trademark Office, as spotted by Patently Apple) the idea is to implement a sensing strip in the Touch Bar – possibly incorporating optical sensor elements – which will be able to detect fingers hovering above it.
This will allow the user to make in-air gestures as mentioned, and different functions could be triggered based on where the fingers are, and where they move to.
The sensor strip could be incorporated in the Touch Bar, or there could be dual strips, one in the bar, and one at the base of the laptop’s screen (presumably to help with accuracy).
Another possible design shown is having the sensor strip on a bent ledge above the laptop hinge (just underneath the display), with the ledge potentially able to tilt out.
It would certainly be an interesting move by Apple, and could considerably increase the functionality of the Touch Bar and the number of tasks it could facilitate (note that it would still keep the capability to actually be touched to initiate various functions, too).
As ever, the existence of a patent doesn’t necessarily mean anything beyond the fact that Apple is exploring the concept, so it may never come to an actual finished product.
That said, this is far from the first time a patent for some form of in-air gesturing has been filed by Apple, so it perhaps seems like one of the more likely ideas to make it past the research and development drawing board.
Big changes are certainly in the pipeline for Apple’s laptops according to the rumor mill, including ditching Intel processors for Apple’s own CPUs in some models – and that particular change could happen later this year.