The mention of a proximity sensor was discovered in the iOS 4.3 beta this week by blogdoiphone.com. The developer build of the forthcoming operating system update includes two new strings entitled "PAD_CASE_LOCK" and "PAD_CASE_LOCK_FOOTER."
The new additions to the software are part of the Settings application on the iPad, which would allow users to enable or disable the feature. It describes placing a cover over the iPad screen to automatically lock the device, rather than pressing the power/lock button on the top right. Users could also unlock the device without
"Automatically lock and unlock your iPad when you close and open the iPad cover," the setting reads.
The current iPad includes an ambient light sensor, but not a proximity sensor. The potential addition of the proximity sensor would allow the screen to automatically turn off, and the device to become locked, much like the iPhone does when the handset is placed against a user's ear during a call.
If implemented, the change could help Apple remove buttons from the iPad, something a recent rumor suggested the company is looking to do. Currently, the iPad must be unlocked by pressing the home button and then activating the device through the "slide to unlock" gesture.
The first beta of iOS 4.3 enabled new multi-touch gestures that further negate the need for the home button, allowing users to quickly switch between applications or return to the home screen by making quick four- or five-finger gestures on the touch display.
The mention of the auto-lock and unlock feature via a proximity sensor would require the use of a case with the iPad to cover its screen. Currently, the iPad does not ship with a case, though Apple sells its own first-party case designed for the iPad, which includes a flap to cover the 9.7-inch display.