Even after all of the patent battles over mobile device gestures, Apple is setting its sights on the future by looking beyond the touch screen alone. Future iPhones and iPads could feature a invention that would replace or supplement pinch-to-zoom gestures with other technology. A patent for the concept was filed by Apple in May 2011.
The above diagram from AppleInsider shows how the automatic zoom system might work on an iOS device. Essentially content on the screen would dynamically resize based on the change in distance from the viewer's face. There would be two distinct modes of operation for the automatic zoom feature.
Using zoom mode would automatically make content larger on the iPhone as the device is brought closer to the face of the user. For applications such as Maps or certain games this would provide an intuitive way to get closer to the action or see details without having to touch the screen. Zooming out would be as simple as moving the iPhone further away. The mode could be invoked automatically depending on Settings in iOS for each application.
Comfort mode would provide the opposite effect. One example could be reading with iBooks. The object of comfort mode would be to keep the text at a comfortable size for reading regardless of how far the iPhone sits from the user's eyes. Moving the device further away results in the font size increasing to keep the text readable. Bringing the iPhone closer to the face would shrink the text dynamically to fit more content on the screen.