On January 17, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new product in the form of a removable device clip. The advanced clip may offer tactile buttons or a transparent glass touchpad. The clip could be used as a remote control. The removable clip could be applied to an iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook and yes, even a "convertible notebook." If you like to bring your iPod or iPhone to a workout, the clip will be able to provide users with an added level of convenience with quick to control buttons. The clip will attach to devices via a magnetic mechanism.
Apple's Patent Background
Various types of clips are provided today with portable electronic computing devices such as media players (e.g., music player or video player). The clips today typically serve only one function, which is to clip the device to various objects such as a person's clothing. As a result of such typical purposes of clips, clips usually only operate to mechanically connect the electronic computing device to another object. In some cases, the clips are used with electronic computing devices having electronic displays. In such cases, the clips are necessarily provided on a surface of the device other than the surface having the display, since doing otherwise would result in the clip undesirably interfering with the display. Often, the clip is physically integrated with the electronic computing device such that the clip and device form a single unit. Such a unit necessarily has a thicker width than the electronic computing device alone, which is in many cases disadvantageous for marketing purposes.
While today's clips provide a valuable function for portable electronic computing devices, they are deficient in that the real estate used by the clips is underutilized in that the clips are only used to attach electronic computing devices to other objects. Such underutilization is particularly undesirable as technology continues to miniaturize since even the smallest amount of real estate used by a device is often considered burdensome by a consumer.
Embodiments of Apple's invention generally concern systems, apparatus's, and methods for providing a removable clip with a user interface to electronic computing devices. In one embodiment, the user interface may be configured to operate as a clip, thereby enabling the electronic computing device to be removably attached to an object such as a person's clothing. The user interface may also be operable to receive user inputs (via, e.g., a touch pad) and thereby control an electronic computing device.
In some embodiments, the user interface may be transparent. As a result, information such as icons displayed on the electronic computing device may be visible to the user via the transparent user interface. The electronic computing device may then be responsive to user engagement with the clip based on locations of the user engagement and their correspondence to the icons displayed on the electronic computing device. In this fashion, a portable user interface may be provided that significantly enhances the functionality and usability of existing devices, and in some cases may also advantageously operate as a clip.
In one embodiment, the user interface may be configured to operate as a clip, and the user interface may be operable to display information (via, e.g., an LCD). By coupling the clip to an electronic computing device, the electronic computing device may thereafter display information on the clip via the user interface. In some embodiments, the display capability of the clip may be combined with the ability to receive user inputs (e.g., a touch pad may be layered over an LCD). In this fashion, a significant amount of functionality may be added to existing devices, and in some cases the device may also advantageously operate as a clip.
Various other features may also provide numerous other advantages over the state of the art. For example, the user interfaces may include tactile feedback elements such as rubber domes. In this fashion, a user may be able to easily cause the electronic device to perform a function without visually seeing the device or user interface.
Apple states that their newly designed removable clip could be modified to apply to an iPod, iPhone, iPad, camera, game player, MacBook and believe it or not Apple includes a "convertible notebook," which is one the first times they've used this phrasing – even though Tim Cook shuns the very thought of such a device ever being made by Apple. Some of the configurations for differing devices are shown below in the first graphic.
In some embodiments, the front surface of the clip could include an input element that may be operable to receive user inputs and show icons for play, pause, fast forward, rewind, volume up, and/or volume down.
As shown below in patent figure 2A, when a user wants to play a video while the clip is still attached, the video will automatically position itself below the clip so as to not interfere with their viewing.
In one embodiment, the removable user interface may be used to control an electronic computing device. In this case, user interface element 154 may include touch-sensitive regions. Tactile feedback elements 156 may also be provided to enable a user to locate the touch-sensitive regions.
The tactile feedback elements shown above may provide stops to prevent the body from directly contacting a surface of electronic computing device. In such a case, tactile feedback elements may be made of material that is softer than the material which the electronic display is made of. For example, they may be made of at least one of silicon, rubber, cloth, soft plastic, etc.
Apple's patent FIG. 9B illustrated above shows a profile view of removable user interface with a removable user interface that may include a removable capacitive or resistive touch pad.
Apple credits Product Design Manager Fletcher Rothkopf and Teodor Dabov as the inventors of this patent application which was originally filed under serial number 180433 in Q3 2011.
A Note about Patent Figure Designs
It should be noted that patent figures represent conceptual products while pointing to specific technical aspects detailed in the patent application. Patent application figures aren't to be confused with prototypes or design patents illustrating the actual look of the commercial product.
A Word about Continuation Patents
It should be noted that the US Patent and Trademark Office did in fact publish a series of older continuation patents today dating back to between 2007 and 2011. The continuation patents listed below are specifically referenced as such under the section titled "Cross-Reference to Related Applications." Generally speaking, this type of patent application contains modifications that Apple's legal team have made to the original patent claims in an effort to have the US Patent Office finally approve their invention. In general continuation patents don't represent any new developments from the original patent filing. Some websites mistakenly report on continuation patents as if they were new Apple filings to which they are not. Here are the older continuation patents that were published today by the US Patent Office:
1. 20130019237 & 20130019234: Both of these are old 2011 patents titled "System and method for Linking Pre-Installed Software to a user Account on an Online Store.
2. 20130018984: This is an old 2007 patent titled "Information Card Federation Point Tracking and Management.
3. 20130018792: This is an old 2009 patent titled "Parental Controls."
4. 20130017821: This is an old 2010 patent titled "Wireless Connection Control."
5. 20130013779: This is an old 2010 patent titled "Efficient Service Discovery for Peer-to-Peer Networking Devices."
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Sites Covering our Original Report
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