While the late Steve Jobs wasn't a big fan of the "dumb stylus" of yesteryear, that was basically a tiny plastic pencil, he knew that one day the technology would give rise to an advanced iPen. Apple has invested heavily in the modern iPen with over 24 patents to their credit thus far. Today we get to take a look at Apple's fourth and fifth stylus related patents for the first quarter of 2014 alone. In Apple's latest inventions, they describe a sophisticated stylus with an internal mechanism using electrically charged discs that could elongate the tip of the stylus. In standard mode it's a pen. In the extended mode it's a brush with brush-like fibers. Apple's invention will really be appreciated by artists as they've created a very unique feature just for them in respect to color matching. The different modes of operation are designed to provide a more realistic writing and painting experience. In recent weeks, Microsoft has filed for a similar invention using magnets to control the writing and painting experience. This is where the trend is headed. With Apple having invested thousands of man hours on a next generation stylus or digital pen, let's hope that one day soon Apple's CEO Tim Cook will finally give this project the green light to deliver a high-end iDevice accessory for artists and business people alike.
Apple's Patent Background
Many types of input devices may be used to provide input to computing devices, such as buttons or keys, mice, trackballs, joysticks, touch screens and the like. Touch screens, in particular, are becoming increasingly popular because of their ease and versatility of operation. Typically touch screens can include a touch sensor panel, which may be optically clear or near-clear, and a display device that can be positioned behind, in front of or in plane with the panel so that the touch-sensitive surface substantially covers the viewable area of the display device. Touch screens allow a user to provide various types of input to the computing device by touching the touch sensor panel using a finger, stylus, or other object at a location dictated by a user interface being displayed by the display device. In general, touch screens can recognize a touch event and the position of the touch event on the touch sensor panel, and the computing system can then interpret the touch event in accordance with the display appearing at the time of the touch event, and thereafter can perform one or more actions based on the touch event.
Touch sensor panels can be formed from a matrix of row and column traces, with sensors or touch regions present where the rows and columns cross over each other while being separated by a dielectric material. Each row can be driven by a stimulation signal, and touch locations can be identified through changes in the stimulation signal. Typically, a touch location is sensed based on an interference of the stimulation signal, such that a touch location may correspond to a location where the stimulation signal is the weakest. In some instances it may be desirable for a user to provide input to the touch screen with an input device other than the user's finger or fingers. Some input devices, such as a stylus, allow a user to use the input device as a pen or pencil and "write" on the touch screen. However, many times, a tip or point of these input devices may be a relatively hard element that may feel unnatural to users, as well as may generally produce the same output on the touch screen regardless of the user's input variation (such as, pressing harder, angling the tip, and so on). Accordingly, many of the "writing" input devices may lack features that may be present in pens, pencils, or other non-electronic writing tools.
Apple Continues their Work on a Digital Pen
Apple continues their work on a future digital pen seven years after Steve Jobs downplayed the "dumb stylus" of yesteryear. Apple continues to advance their work on the digital pen and in this patent application, their focus is on a tip or nib that is movably coupled to the body of the digital pen and an actuator operably connected to the body and the nib.
As one example, the user may activate a button, switch, or other component, in order to vary the length of the nib which may be exposed through an end of the stylus.
As the length of the nib exposed varies, the point of contact or interaction dimensions of the nib on the touch screen, as well as the length of the nib encased within the body may be varied, which may vary one or more inputs from the input device to the touch screen.
For instance, a relatively short exposed length may be less flexible, resulting in a harder feel, such as with a pen tip on a touch screen. Yet with a longer exposed length, the nib may be more flexible, resulting in a softer feel, much like a paint brush, and optionally wider tip when the user presses on the touch screen.
The Pen Communicates with the Touch Display
Apple notes that by increasing its exposed length or other dimension, more of the nib, which may be a conductive element, may be in communication with the touch screen. In these instances, the stylus may interact with multiple nodes of the touch screen which may produce a wider, darker, or differently colored output, provide an output with different formatting, be registered as a different input, or otherwise vary the output of the touch screen based on the inputs from the stylus.
As one example, the more portions of the nib that may be in contact with the touch screen may provide a wider displayed output line, or may correspond to different colors, or the like.
Further, Apple notes that the stylus may include a power source, a processor, an input/output interface and/or one or more sensors as noted below as #174 of patent FIG. 6. The sensors may include an accelerometer, a gyroscope, a pressure sensor, a force sensor or other. The electrical components of the stylus may be in communication through one or more buses.
The illustrative sensors are configured to detect a voltage signal corresponding to a nib position. Further, patent FIG. 6A is a cross-section view of the stylus taken along line 6A-6A in FIG. 4A. FIG. 6B is a cross-section view of the stylus taken along line 6B-6B in FIG. 4B.
With reference to FIGS. 6A and 6B, the sensor may be in communication with a voltage divider, such as a potentiometer. In this example, as the actuator changes a position of the nib with respect to the body of the stylus, the wiper #178 operably connects to an end of the nib which may change location along a restive element. For example, as the actuator moves the nib along a length of the body of the stylus, the actuator may also move the wiper.
Realistic Brush-Like Inputs
In another embodiment, the nib may include multiple (e.g., two or more) strands. In these instances, as the nib length extends from an enclosure or body of the stylus, the strands may separate from one another. As one example, the strands may fan away from one another. Each strand may interact with the touch screen to provide a separate input to the device, and so this may create a brush- like input to the touch screen.
As the strands may be relatively flexible, the stylus may feel substantially similar to a paint brush, and the touch screen or computing device may be configured to provide outputs that correspond to a paint brush-type input. For example, as the user swipes the stylus across the page, the interactions of each strand with the touch screen may produce a brush-like output line having varying thicknesses depending on the pressure applied by the user, the angle of the stylus, and so on.
Fiber Optic Cables
As briefly mentioned, the nib may be a conductive material, or another material laced or coated with conductive elements, that may interact with a capacitive touch screen. As one non-limiting example, the nib may be Mylar or a like material. Alternatively or additionally, the nib may be configured to transfer one or more optical signals to the touch screen. For example, the nib may include or more fiber optic cables that transfer one or more input signals to the touch screen.
Real-World Color Matching System
Further, a stylus having this functionality may facilitate color matching of real-world items, so that those colors may be used in an output associated with the stylus.
As one example, the ends of a strand may be placed next to a shirt. The color of the shirt may be sensed by the light sensor and a corresponding RGB value may be determined. That RGB value may be communicated from the input device to the associated computing device, so that outputs created by the action of the input device are shown in the aforementioned color. Essentially, any color may thus be sampled and reproduced as an output color in this fashion, and substantially any item may serve as the basis for this color sampling.
The light sensor need not be a visible light sensor only or exclusively. It may be an ultraviolet light sensor, infrared light sensor, and so on, either in addition to or in place of a standard color sensor. In addition, the light sensor may be paired with a light emitting source, such as a white LED, to facilitate color sampling by illuminating the surface to be color sampled.
Apple credits Joel Armstrong-Muntner as the sole inventor of patent application 20140078109.
Force-Sensitive Input Device
The US Patent Office published a second Apple patent related to this stylus titled "Force-Sensitive Input Device." Apple's patent abstract states that the invention is about "An input device for computing devices that include touch screens. The input device includes an outer housing having an inner surface and an inner shaft. The inner shaft is at least partially received within the outer housing. A nib is operatively coupled to the inner shaft. Providing a first force to the nib causes the inner shaft to contact the inner surface of the outer housing at a first contact point along the outer housing, and providing a second force to the nib causes the inner shaft to contact the inner surface of the outer housing at a second contact point along the outer housing."
In Apple's second stylus related patent we see patent FIG. 9D below. In this patent figure, Apple notes that the inner shaft may be similar to those described above, but may additionally include a plurality of disks #184 that are electrically conductive.
For more information on Apple's second stylus invention, see patent application number 20140078070 which was invented by Joel Armstrong-Muntner.
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