Last week we reported on an Apple invention relating to the iPhone or iPad Home Button doubling as a gaming joystick. It was so simple and yet so right. I had noted at the end of that report that it was a nice feature, even though it wasn't a total gaming solution. I guess the gaming gods wanted to remind us today that Apple indeed has other technology on hand to advance game-play functionality on iDevices. The U.S. Patent Office published a patent application today revealing an invention that covers iDevices having sensors built into the backside of the unit giving gamers controller inputs resembling standard gamepad functionality.
The timing of this latest patent application in context to last week's revelations confirms at minimum that gaming is one of the ways that Apple wants to advance the iPad in innovative ways. On July 22, 2014 we posted a report titled "Apple's CEO is sharply focused on the iPad with Hints of Significant Innovation on the Way." The report covered Tim Cook's commentary during Apple's fiscal Q3 financial conference where analysts were expressing some concern over the iPad's declining sales. Advancing the iPad with invisible backside gaming controls would be considered a significant advancement.
In Apple's patent FIG. 10 noted below we're able to see the backside of an iPad system having sensor regions for user input.
Apple notes that sensors (shown as #177 above) may be positioned in regions under a surface of the perimeter of the backside to facilitate input by a user. It should be appreciated that the sensors may be positioned in a linear manner as shown, in a grid pattern, or any other suitable pattern and/or density to achieve a desired input granularity and/or functionality.
It should also be appreciated that the sensors for determining position and proximity of a user's hands may include ultrasonic, pressure, capacitive sensors, and/or the like. In some embodiments, one or more imaging devices may be implemented for positionally and/or proximity information.
The sensed position of the user's hands may be shown on the display in some contexts. That is, in some operating contexts such as when in use with a video game, the showing of the user's fingers location may be beneficial, whereas in other contexts, such as when playing a movie, the display of the user's hands may be undesirable as it may distract from the content being displayed.
As a user's hand positioning may shift or change during use, the virtual inputs may correspondingly shift as shown in patent FIG. 11 below. That is, if a user's hand moves during use, the move is sensed and the virtual inputs (shown as #180 below) are correspondingly changed to accommodate the shift of the hands. Generally, the assignment/interpretation of sensor input is reconfigured to compensate for the hand shift.
In Apple's patent FIG. 9 we see an iPad displaying configurable input devices and a user's hand position relative to the input devices in accordance with this invention.
Apple's patent FIG. 11 illustrates the tablet computer system of FIG. 9 with the configurable input devices reconfigured according to the position of a user's hands.
Advancing Virtual Keyboards for Macs
In this same very same patent application, Apple reveals their work regarding virtual keyboards for possible use with future iMacs and MacBooks.
About the Patent Figures Noted Above: Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrates an iMac including a configurable input device and providing an image of the configured input device on its display. Another patent figure not shown illustrates a MacBook; patent FIG. 2 illustrates an array of sensors in the configurable input device of FIG. 1; patent FIG. 4 illustrates a user's hands located proximately to the input device of FIG. 1 and an image of the user's hands being shown on the display of the computer system; FIG. 5 illustrates the display of the computer system of FIG. 4 showing the location of the user's fingertips as ovals; patent FIG. 6 illustrates a displayed virtual image device being altered to show a relative positioning of a user's fingers and the inputs underlying the user's fingers.
In some embodiments, the input device (noted as patent point #102 above) may take the form of a generally planar surface 110. Sensors 106 and 108 may be configured to sense proximity and/or location objects relative to the surface. For example, the noted sensors may sense a user's hands/fingers when they are near the input device. In some embodiments, the noted sensors may take the form of a light sensor (e.g., a camera), a proximity sensor (e.g., ultrasonic sensor), or the like. Additionally, in some embodiments, sensors may be located adjacent to and/or under the surface of the input device to sense proximity, pressure or contact. .
Additionally, or alternatively, the user's fingers may be shown in positions illustrating what input their digits overlay. That is, the illustrated fingers may be shown as being over particular characters, icons, etc., that the discrete input devices will be interpreted as by the computing system.
Apple credits David Amm as the inventors of patent application 20150022454 which was filed in Q3 2014. One of Apple's original patent filings on this subject matter could be reviewed here in more detail. In Apple's virtual gaming control patent, Apple notably revised their patent claims so as to strengthen their invention's IP. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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