According to our Smart Pen Archives, Apple has now filed more than a dozen smart pen patent applications over the last few years with each one getting more innovative and detailed. One of the most advanced patent applications on smart pens to date was published this past April and one of two patent applications on this subject published today illustrates that Apple is really trying to find a smart pen solution that could also work with ordinary paper. Students and professional doodlers alike could work on ordinary paper and/or notebooks and then simply transfer their data to the device of their choosing when they're done. Other equally innovative ideas that surfaced today include a unique heating element that provides the iPen's tip with smooth action on the display in any temperature and even an integrated iPen dock to charge the Pen's battery. With Apple working on so many advanced iPen options of late, it's evident that the Crazy Ones in Cupertino think that they're closing in on the perfect smart pen.
Background of Apple's Invention
There are a number of different options for entering data into a computing device. For instance, a keyboard, mouse, stylus, or touch screen may each be used for data entry. Some touchscreen computing devices, such as mobile phones, tablet personal computers, personal digital assistants and so forth, allow a user to use a finger to enter data. Some other types of computing devices also allow a user to enter data using a resistive-tip plastic stylus.
The touchscreens in some computing devices employ one or more capacitive sensors which allow the screen to recognize when a user's finger is selecting or entering data. However, one problem is that many current styluses operate with resistive touchscreens but do not function with a capacitive device, insofar as a touch of the stylus does not change the capacitance sensed by such a device. Thus, many user enter data into a device having a capacitive touch screen by touching or tapping the screen with a finger. As a user's finger is relatively wide, it may be difficult for the user to enter more complex text and characters, such as characters in Asian languages.
Apple's Solution Part One: iPen with a Conductive Tip that's Heated
In Apple's first solution to this problem, they describes a conductive stylus for entering data into a capacitive-coupling computing device, such as a touch-screen. The stylus in one embodiment has a conductive tip. In another embodiment the conductive tip of the stylus may be heated, creating a more consistent interaction between the capacitive-sensors in the computing device and the stylus. Additionally, in yet another embodiment the stylus includes a rechargeable battery which may be recharged through a docking station located on the computing device.
Apple's Solution Part Two: An iPen for Creating Digital Notes on any Paper
One embodiment is a stylus that includes a position sensing device such as an accelerometer, a tip for writing, a transmitter for sending position data, a receiver and a computing device. The stylus may be used for entering data into the computing device without actually touching the device nor requiring any specialized paper. Rather, the stylus is able to enter data into the computing device, corresponding to images or text drawn draw on any surface. Additionally, the stylus can enter the data from a distance, such as from across the room, to the computing device.
This allows a user in one embodiment to keep their computing device like an iPhone stored in a briefcase or pocket and still be able to use the stylus to enter text or drawings into the device. This makes it easy, for example, in a classroom setting for a user to take handwritten notes and simultaneously create a digital version of those notes.
Additionally, in another embodiment, the stylus allows for the user to write on a whiteboard mounted on a wall and simultaneously display what he has written on a computing device.
Part One: The iPen System
In Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below we see stylus 100 that may be used to write text create drawings and/or characters. The stylus tip may capacitively couple to the device (or to the screen of the device), thereby allowing the device to sense the stylus' presence.
Apple's future iOS device (102) detects and receives the input from the stylus through this capacitive coupling (and optionally via the screen 104), processes the data and then sends the data back to the screen to display. Often, this takes the form of displaying a graphic or differently-colored pixel where input is detected. Thus, as the stylus moves across the screen, it may leave behind a trail much like the ink left by a pen. The iOS device may be any type of device that is able to receive a capacitive input. For example, a touch screen computer, a personal digital assistant, a cellular phone or a smart-phone.
The screen provides a surface on which the stylus may write or draw in this fashion, as well through which the stylus may select one or more options displayed on the screen. Interestingly Apple states that the stylus need not directly touch the device or screen as the screen may be sufficiently sensitive to detect a capacitive change across an air gap as the stylus draws near.
Apple's patent FIG. 2a noted above we see one embodiment the stylus that has a body (200), a tip (202), a grip portion (206) and a tip coating (204). One or more of these parts, such as the grip portion, may be omitted in alternative embodiments. The body of the pen may be made out of any material, such as plastic, metal, fabric, leather or the like or may be a combination of any of the above materials.
The tip of the pen may be a rotating ball fit into a socket in the body or may be a fixed, rounded end. In one embodiment the tip may be made out of any material that has some conductivity, such as copper, aluminum, gold, silver or other metals, graphite or other non-metallic conductors.
In another embodiment, the tip may also be formed from a soft conductive material, such as an elastomer, that has been doped with metal or other conductive particles. A soft conductive material may allow the tip of the pen to avoid scratching the screen while still capacitively coupling with the screen.
We see another stylus embodiment in patent FIG. 2b noted above we that the body and tip are basically formed from one piece. If the material is electrically conductive, then the tip may be electrically coupled to a user when the user gasps the body of the stylus.
A Unique Heating Element
In patent FIG. 3A the stylus is illustrating the inclusion of a heating element 302, a battery 304, and a touch sensor 306. The heating element supplies heat to the tip of the pen. When the tip is heated by the heating element, it may stabilize or enhance the capacitance of the stylus, thus permitting the screen to more easily recognize that the stylus is entering data.
Typically, the sensors in the device or screen are better able to recognize a constant temperature versus varying temperatures or unpredictable temperatures. In one embodiment, the heating element heats the tip to approximately body temperature, e.g., 37.degree. Celsius (98.6.degree. Fahrenheit). The heating element may near-instantaneously heat the tip or may heat the tip over time. This feature might come in handy in the winter.
Likewise, the heating element may maintain the tip temperature even when the stylus is not in use or may heat the stylus only when the stylus is grasped, removed from its dock, or when the tip comes in contact with a surface.
The heating element may be located inside the body of the stylus and may be electrically connected to the battery and the tip of the pen. The heating element may be anything capable of providing a source of heat, such as a resistor or fluid. For instance, the heating element may take the form of a resistive wire made from materials such as a metal or metal alloy (e.g., Nichrome, Kanthal, Cupronickle, and so on); metal bars or wires, wire insulated in steel or brass, ceramics with positive thermal coefficients, fluid or the like.
In one embodiment, the heating element may heat a fluid that circulates to provide heat to the tip. In this embodiment the fluid for the heating element is stored in the same manner as ink is stored in a liquid-ink pen, for example, inside a plastic tube disposed within the body.
The battery generally supplies power to the heating element and may be located within the body of the stylus. The battery is electrically connected to the heating element and may also be electrically connected to a touch sensor.
A Passive Heating Element Alternative
In Apple's patent FIG. 3B we see another embodiment the stylus that includes a passive heating element 308. In this embodiment, the battery and touch sensor may be omitted. The passive heating element may automatically activate when the user grips the stylus. As one example, the passive heating element may extend to the outside of the body and come in contact with a user's hand through radially-extending elements 310, as shown in FIG. 3B.
The passive heating element may be designed as a heat sink to transfer thermal energy from the user's hand to the tip of the pen. The passive heating element may be constructed out of bars, wires, cylinders or other shapes. Sample materials that may be used to implement the passive heating element include copper, aluminum, gold and other thermally-conductive metals, carbon-doped metals or metals doped with another element to increase thermal conductivity, composite materials, ceramics, and so on.
Apple's iPen Dock
And finally on this first iPen system patent, we see Apple's patent FIG. 4 that illustrates an iPen being docked within the iOS device itself to charge the pen's battery. Alternatively, the dock may be separate.
The iPen's dock includes a lock-type mechanism for holding the stylus in place, so that it does not fall out while the computing device is being transported or used. The lock mechanism may be a set of plastic tabs or any similar device capable of holding and easily releasing the stylus. In an alternative embodiment the dock may be an inductive charger, which uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between the battery and the dock.
Apple's patent application 20110162894 was originally filed in Q1 2010 by inventor Douglas Weber.
Apple's Solution Part Two: An iPen for Creating Digital Notes on any Paper
Apple's second patent application of the day concerning a next generation smart pen covers a wirelessly communicating stylus. As the stylus moves, one or more accelerometers may track the position and relative motion of a tip of the stylus. The stylus may store the output of the accelerometer(s) as position data for a period of time; position data may be transmitted in bursts to an associated computing device.
Apple states that after either a certain time elapses or a certain amount of data is gathered, the stylus may transmit this position data to a receiver associated with a computing device. The computing device may be located anywhere, as long as the receiver is able to receive the position data from the stylus. For instance, the computing device may be located in the user's pocket or across the room from the user.
The computing device, after receiving the position data, processes the position data and then displays corresponding images on an associated display such as a monitor, television, mobile phone or tablet surface, other computer screen and so on. For example, the device may show a line or trail on a screen that corresponds to the motion of the stylus. This allows the user to simultaneously take notes (or otherwise draw/write,) on a sheet of surface, or even in the air, and create a separate digital copy of his work.
A tip of the stylus may be placed against a surface such that the stylus may move across the surface to create corresponding writing, images, letters and so forth on a display of the computing device. The surface may be any type of surface, such as a sheet of paper, whiteboard, chalkboard, electronic screen or the like.
The System May or May Not Work with Electronic Ink
The surface may or may not be able to display the text depending on properties of both the surface and stylus. For instance the stylus may not include any ink or other medium that is left behind on the surface. In such an embodiment, the text 104 and/or images is typically only displayed on the computing device after the corresponding position data has been transmitted and processed.
In another embodiment, the stylus may include ink, graphite, or another similar substance, such that motion of the stylus across the surface will leave the substance behind. In this manner, the surface may display markings left by the motion of the stylus; these same motions may be shown on a display associated with the computing device once position data is received and processed by the computing device. Apple also notes that the surface may be located horizontally on a desk, positioned vertically on a wall, or the like.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown below illustrates the basic make up of one of their designs which includes a body 202, a position sensing device 204, a tip 206, a switch 208, an ink tube 210, a power source 212, a transmitter 214 and memory 216. One or more of these elements may be omitted in certain embodiments. For example, the memory may be omitted in some embodiments and the transmitter may operate continuously when the stylus is in use.
Apple states that if the smart pen or stylus is intended to be used with a sheet of paper, the tip of the pen may be a graphite point, a lead point, or a rolling ball connected to an ink well. This enables the user to draw/write with the stylus as he would with a pencil or ink pen. If, on the other hand, the stylus is designed to interact with an electronic screen such as a tablet personal computer, the tip of the pen may be a sphere or partial sphere made of metal, plastic, an elastomer impregnated with metallic flecks to provide capacitance, and so on. Interestingly, Apple is considering integrating a switch on the smart pen that would permit the user to rotate between the various tips noted above. Meaning it could act like a smart ballpoint pen when you're using paper and then with a click of switch that would allow you to use your iPen with an iOS device: Very nice.
Apple's second smart pen related patent application 20110164000 was originally filed in Q1 2010 by inventor Aleksandar Pance.
Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today
We may list other patent applications here later today.
Notice: Patently Apple presents a brief yet detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest products including the iPod, iPhone, the iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more.
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