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Dear Aunt TUAW: Why would an iPad have a proximity sensor?

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Dear Aunt TUAW,

I've been hearing rumors that the next generation iPad might include a proximity sensor. Now call me dim, but I just don't get it. Proximity sensor? What the fudge? Are we supposed to be holding our iPads to our ears while we chat over Skype VoIP? Has Apple never heard of the (please imagine airquotes here) Bluetooth headset?

I'm serious. Is this the stupidest rumor or what?

Love, hugs, whatever,

Your nephew Davie C.


Dear, sweet, darling Davie,

I don't suppose you're imagining something like ... this picture to the right, are you? Because I'm pretty sure that Apple has no intention of converting the iPad into the world's most awkward consumer communication device.

Has Auntie never explained to you about refrigerator lights? When you shut the door, the light inside the fridge turns off. Manufacturers use this kind of switch to disable the light, reduce internal heat and save you a little on your electricity bill.

The (still highly theoretical) iPad proximity sensor does more or less the same thing. It's not about Skype calls or iPad armband holders, it's about shutting off the unit's screen when it's clear that the device is no longer in use.

Instead of thinking "phone calls" and "mis-dialing-by-cheek," think cases and backpacks. If you use a case with your iPad, when you close the front cover, it would be great if the iPad were smart enough to switch off the screen. Or what about when Auntie puts away her iPad in her gold lamé purse, along with her various "sciatica medications" (See? Auntie can do air quotes, too!) after being pulled over for her weekly iPadding-while-driving traffic violation? Surely, the iPad should provide less glowing insights into Auntie's Preparation-H stash than that sweet Police officer needs to know about.

Yes, Apple will need to be clever about adding a proximity sensor. After all, which edge do you put it on? The iPad can be used in any orientation, and it just wouldn't do to start blanking the screen every time Uncle Steve turns the page in iBooks whenever he's visiting his special small reading room.

That said, surely Apple wouldn't add a proximity sensor if it hadn't really thought through the basic use case scenarios. Auntie, for one, is curious as to how this one will come off -- if true.

Kissies,

Auntie T.

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