Red Herring has spotted an Apple patent filing that appears to cover a method for operating an iPod click wheel without actually having to touch the device.
It's not totally clear how the "proximity detector in [a] handheld device" works, but the patent filing revealed last week would shed some light on comments made earlier this year by the chairman of Hon Hai, which manufactures the iPod, about a "none-touch concept" in the works for the next generation of the iPod. The idea seems to be that you would hover over the traditional click-wheel and make selections, but you wouldn't have to leave any fingerprints behind.
Like most tech companies, however, Apple files loads of patents, and it's never easy to tell which ones will actually make it into final products. New iPods are expected in the second half of this year, with most of the speculation thusfar focused on improved video capabilities and a new, more scratch-resistant casing.