On August 29, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new and elaborate collaboration system for videoconferencing that could be useful for the enterprise or for future distant leaning applications. The system introduces new interactive pie menus that will work with a sophisticated pen that will include memory and other advanced functions. Apple notes that as the pen advances toward the menu presented on a large presentation screen, an opening will automatically be created in the menu so that no content is covered by the presenter's hand or arm. Additionally, Apple notes that the new menu system will work with custom applications designed for this system yet also work with traditional software such as Photoshop, PowerPoint, and other common applications. Apple must think this is an important invention considering that this is a follow-up application to their already granted patent issued back in March.
Apple's Overview of a New Collaboration System
When people meet to collaborate on a project, it is possible for the people to become distracted and unfocused. Accordingly, various business tools have been developed to help lead business meetings to help participants stay focused on the intended topic. Examples of business tools of this nature include whiteboards and flip charts. These business tools, when properly used, can help focus a group of people on a small set of topics by providing a way for the moderator of the meeting to keep returning the participants' attention to the main theme of the meeting.
For example, by interrupting and requesting a person to succinctly state their thought, and then writing the thought on the whiteboard, the moderator may focus the person's attention and return to the main objectives of the meeting. Whiteboards may also be used to enable people to brainstorm solutions to a particular problem, vote on the various solutions, and otherwise record the content of the meeting. Myriad uses for white boards have and may be developed.
When not everyone is in the same room, it is possible for the remote participants to look at an electronic whiteboard which may be run as an application on a personal computer. The electronic whiteboard may be used in a manner similar to conventional physical whiteboards, except that the participants are not required to be in the same room.
Whiteboards have also changed from being flat white boards on which participants could write using erasable markers, to the point where they are now being implemented using large digital surfaces. These same types of large digital surfaces are also being used to implement tabletop surfaces or other horizontal surfaces to let users input and view content on the table rather than requiring the users to look up at a wall. As these systems become more prevalent, it would be advantageous to provide a manner for remote participants to collaborate with people geographically located with the large digital surface. Similarly, it would be advantageous to provide a more optimal way for users to access functions associated with programs running on the large digital surface.
Apple's invention reveals a new collaboration system that will provide enhanced GUI's to enable users to interact with electronic devices. In one embodiment, users will be able to add content to a digital system by using a pen that streams coordinates so that input to the digital system may be based on conventional pen and paper handwriting.
In another embodiment, an ergonomic open-shaped pie menu system is provided to facilitate selection of options on a digital surface.
The Collaboration System Includes an iPen Component
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates an embodiment of the invention in which an electronic pen is used to enable users to interact with other users in a collaborative manner.
Specifically, a person using an electronic pen is remotely located from other participants and, hence, cannot directly interact with those participants. According to an embodiment of the invention, the electronic pen will be able to enable the user to interact with the other participants in a collaboration center over a network.
As shown in FIG. 2, the pen user uses the electronic pen to write on a special pad of paper or on ordinary paper depending on the type of electronic pen being used.
The written content is stored in the electronic pen and, on demand, streamed from the pen to a collaboration server. Where the pen is configured to stream the information over the network to the collaboration server directly, it may do so.
Alternatively, the electronic pen may stream the information to a computer or other handheld electronic device associated with the pen user which may process the data and/or relay the data to the collaboration server. The collaboration server interprets the pen strokes from the electronic pen and provides an updated output to the other participants participating in the collaboration session by causing the updated content to appear on a large digital surface physically present with the other participants in the collaboration center.
For example, if the electronic pen user draws an image, the image may be shown to the other participants on the large digital surface in the collaboration center. Alternatively, if the pen user invoked a function such as voted on an item, the pen user's input will be provided to the other participants to show an updated collaboration view.
Specific Pen Systems
The sophisticated pen system associated with Apple's new collaboration system could very well be Apple's super smart pen that was first revealed back in 2011. To further elaborate on what the system could be like, Apple points to two other pen systems on the market today.
The first is the Anoto pen which uses special pads of paper and optical recognition to determine where the pen is on a piece of paper and stream coordinates (wirelessly or via a USB cable) using a proprietary format. Software on the computer receives the coordinates and translates the pen motion into text or graphics.
The second is the IOGear pen known as the Mobile Digital Scribe which may be used to electronically stream coordinates of the pen strokes (which are made on paper) to a computer. The Mobile Digital Scribe will store handwritten notes, drawings, etc., for later transfer to a computer for storage or rendering.
A New Collaborative Menu System
When collaborating on large surface devices such as tabletop computers or wall mounted systems, traditional computer menus are inefficient. Apple's new menu system is illustrated below in a series of patent figures.
The new menu system will include a point and click region, noted as patent point #12 in FIG. 4, which could be divided logically into a plurality of areas which may include icons indicating particular function features. In operation the user may use an electronic pen or their finger to select one of the icons to cause the function to be executed or to cause a sub-menu to be drawn to make a further selection of functions available to the user. The gesture area may be used by users to draw lines, select icons, cause new icons to appear, and in other ways.
Specifically, the new menu system may be used with a variety of different software programs, and the particular functions supported by the icons would change depending on the functions available in the program. Use of the gesture area would similarly be expected to be correlated with the application so that different gestures may be used differently to interact with different applications in use via the large digital surface.
In patent FIG. 11 we see an example display of sub-functions that may be invoked when a user selects an icon in one of the point-and-click regions.
Apple's patent FIG. 21 shown below illustrates an example collaboration server where the memory includes collaboration and electronic pen software. These software components contain data and instructions which, when loaded into the processor causes the processor to implement collaboration and electronic pen process.
Apple's patent FIG. 22 noted above illustrates an example large digital surface such as a wall or tabletop surface. In this patent figure the memory includes application, collaboration and menu software. Other application processes such as Photoshop, PowerPoint, and other common applications may be utilized as well.
This is Apple's second patent on this subject with the first one already having been granted in March of this year under patent 8,402, 391. Other Apple iPen related patents could be viewed in our iPen Archives.
Another patent application that surfaced today at the US Patent and Trademark Office is a follow-up to Apple's 2010 iReporter patent filing. To see Apple's latest follow-up patent on this subject matter, see patent application 20130222521.
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