Apple granted 'slide to unlock' patent for touchscreen devices

26 October, 2011

Back in December 2005, more than a year before the first iPhone was announced, Apple had filed for a patent for their revolutionary 'slide to unlock' gesture for touchscreen devices. The patent was described as follows.

A device with a touch-sensitive display may be unlocked via gestures performed on the touch-sensitive display. The device is unlocked if contact with the display corresponds to a predefined gesture for unlocking the device. The device displays one or more unlock images with respect to which the predefined gesture is to be performed in order to unlock the device. The performance of the predefined gesture with respect to the unlock image may include moving the unlock image to a predefined location and/or moving the unlock image along a predefined path. The device may also display visual cues of the predefined gesture on the touch screen to remind a user of the gesture.

Apple has now been granted this patent, six years after it was originally filed. But this could mean trouble for Android OEMs and Android itself, which makes blatant use of this patent.

Having said that the patent is very specific and if you read the highlighted portions above you'll find that it only talks about gestures performed in a 'predefined path'. This exempts Samsung's TouchWiz, HTC's Sense (3.0 onward) and the Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich because they don't require you to make a gesture in a predefined path. Sony Ericsson, Motorola and all the older versions of Android till Gingerbread won't be so lucky, however.

Of course, we are assuming here that Apple will be going after them in court and so far they have given no indication of doing so. Also, we're not sure if Apple can go after them because even though Apple filed for the patent back in 2005, it was only granted today.

It remains to be seen how this will be played out but it must be said that Apple now has the upper hand here. Unless the Android OEMs come up with new ways to unlock their devices (of which there are plenty) they'll be putting themselves squarely in Apple's crosshairs.