The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 38 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we cover a single yet powerful invention. While the invention primarily relates to a possible future MacBook, it also relates to a future tablet, iPhone, television or home appliance. The invention focuses in on the device casing being an I/O interface that could illuminate physical buttons. In the case of the MacBook, there would be no physical keyboard, just an illuminated image of a keyboard which could also morph into a numeric pad and technically into any configuration supporting an application. So with GarageBand, for instance, the keyboard area would be able to morph into a piano keyboard. With a gaming application, the face of the MacBook would be able to reconfigure itself to represent game controls of one sort or another. This is one of Apple's more interesting inventions that could one day support a futuristic hybrid device that would be able to morph into many devices including a notebook, portable gaming machine, television and beyond.
Apple Granted Patent for Live & Configurable MacBooks
Apple has been granted a patent today for their invention relating to electronic devices and, more particularly, to housings of electronic devices providing input/output (I/O) functionality.
In addition to the I/O devices that are externally visible to a user on the MacBook, such as the iSight camera and microphone, the MacBook's housing may have one or more sensors and/or actuators that are located within the housing (and hidden from view) that provide I/O functionality to the housing.
The housing of the MacBook may be plastic, metal, glass, or any other suitable material and/or any combination of materials. In some embodiments, the housing may have small perforations (e.g., micro perforations) to allow light to pass through the housing. The small perforations may range in size from tens of microns to one millimeter, or any other appropriate size.
The I/O Interface for Computers, Devices and Home Appliances
According to Apple's granted patent, the housing user interface or I/O interface may be implemented in a variety of electronic devices including, but not limited to, portable computing devices, cell phones, televisions, personal computers, smart phones, personal digital assistants, media players, appliances such as refrigerators, microwave ovens, etc. and any other suitable electronic device. As such, although the description included herein may include some specific embodiments and may be related to particular functions, it should be understood that the housing I/O interface may be implemented in a wide variety of devices and may perform a variety of functions beyond the embodiments specifically described in this report.
Apple's patent FIG. 12A illustrates a tablet computing device (#150). In one example, the volume outputted by the device's speakers of the device and/or the brightness of the display may be adjusted by touching or applying pressure to the housing (#152).
Instead of having a home button, the tablet may simply go to sleep with one tap on the housing and turn off with a double tap. Considering that Apple's patent is primarily illustrating a smart MacBook casing, it's possible that the inclusion of a smart tablet casing that differs from the iPad would be in context with a hybrid notebook tablet rather than an independent standalone iPad.
In one embodiment, squeezing the device may be used as a control. For example, squeezing the device may be used to adjust the volume up and down. The actual control function may be associated with an application currently running on the device. For example, if the user is listening to music, then a squeeze may be used to adjust volume while if the user is reading something a squeeze may be used to zoom in and out. In one embodiment, squeezing left side of housing means one thing, while squeezing left means another thing. For example, squeezing the left hand side may decrease volume and squeezing the right hand side may increase volume.
The Illuminating MacBook
As shown in Apple's patent FIG. 8A below, when there's no object detected as being near the MacBook Ports (#24), there is no output/feedback provided to a user and the surface of the housing appears to be a non-functional wall, as there are no breaks in the housing surface for input or output devices.
In response to sensing the user input, i.e., an object approaching the ports, the proximity sensors (#66) may generate a signal. The strength of the signal generated by the sensor may be used to determine the distance of an object from the ports. Upon sensing an object near the ports, the processor may generate an output signal to light sources (not shown) so that icons (#97) may be illuminated or may otherwise appear on a top surface of the housing to indicate the location and types of ports that are located on the side of the housing, as shown in FIG. 8B.
Connectors with Built-In RFID (or NFC) Tags
The next feature was first introduced in our January report covering a new user friendly connector system that primarily pointed to devices like the Mac mini and/or iMac. In today's patent, Apple extends the technology to future MacBooks.
Turning to FIGS. 9A and 9B, an alternative embodiment is illustrated wherein a USB connector (#112) may be configured to identify itself to the system as it approaches a port or a bank of ports.
One or more icons or lights may be illuminated to indicate a corresponding and/or available port. In one embodiment, only the icon representing a corresponding port is illuminated, as indicated in FIG. 9B. Additionally or alternatively, the port may be identified on the display of the device, e.g., "USB." Additionally or alternatively, the device may provide an audible output indicating the port type. For example, the device may verbally state "USB" or may simply provide a beep or other audible signal to indicate a particular port.
The "Live" MacBook Surface
Apple's patent lists a great number of sensors that could be implemented in the smart MacBook embodiment including added touch sensor beyond the traditional touchpad including proximity sensors, pressure sensors and haptics.
And then Apple surprises us with a new concept that they simply refer to as the "Live Surface" in context with what sounds like a virtual keyboard. In fact, as you'll read below, the configurable surface would support that. The keyboard is in an outline mode in Apple's patent figure which means that it may not be a fixed keyboard, at all.
The patent states that in one embodiment, the light sources may illuminate to indicate a keyboard configuration. For example, in one embodiment, the light sources may illuminate to show a QWERTY keyboard configuration. Additionally, in some embodiments, the haptic device may begin to vibrate at a low amplitude. The vibration creates a "live" surface, thereby providing a different tactile effect to users touching the vibrating surface (#122) as compared to a surface that is not vibrating. You'll be able to control the haptics to your comfort zone.
The "Configurable" MacBook Surface
In yet another alternative embodiment, Apple states that a user may configure the top surface of the MacBook (#122) to be a custom configuration. The MacBook system may be configured to operate in an operating mode and a configuration mode.
Once in the configuration mode, a user may define portions of the MacBook's surface to provide specified input, such as a keyboard, numeric pad. Technically, the interface could also accommodate a music keyboard or gaming controls and so forth. For example, the configuration mode may provide an application in which a user could manipulate how touching or applying pressure to certain areas of the surface are interpreted.
Once the user has reconfigured the surface, the configuration may be saved in memory of the MacBook. In another example, Apple points to an OLED based light source underneath the surface of the MacBook that would show a reconfigured image in a new location.
Apple credits Aleksandar Pance, Nicholas King, Duncan Kerr and Brett Bilbrey as the inventors of granted patent 8,654,524 which was originally filed in Q3 2009 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Apple's patent application first came to light in February 2011.
Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of granted patents with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each Granted Patent is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any Granted Patent should be read in its entirety for full details. About Making Comments on our Site: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit any comments.
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