In the last quarter there have been two major patent applications covering next generation tactile sensations added to a surface of a device. One covered 'shear force' sensors that will provide users with a sense of rotational motion. Another patent covered delivering the feel of fabrics or textures to surfaces of a mobile device. Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a major patent application from Apple relating to a new tactile user interface for mobile devices that's one of the most advanced to date. Apple aims to deliver next generation tactile and sensory experiences to touch so that when a user touches an image of a beach, touching the sand will produce a hot touch sensation or a wet sensation if they touch a pool of water. Apple's latest invention goes far beyond today's elementary haptics that deliver the sensation of buzzing or vibratiing alone.
Apple's patent application relates to user interfaces for electronic devices, and, more particularly, to input and output components that cooperate to provide a tactile user interface for an electronic device.
For example, an electronic device can operate a tactile user interface in an output mode to produce tactile output via a surface that may be touched by the user. When a user touches the surface and/or draws a finger across the surface, the user may perceive the surface to have characteristics or properties such as, but not limited to, warmness, coldness, smoothness, roughness, slipperiness, stickiness, wetness, dryness, and so on or any combination thereof. In addition, the user may perceive the surface to move, vibrate, shift, translate, depress, protrude, and so on or any combination thereof.
Accordingly, as used herein, the phrase "tactile output" broadly encompasses an output provided one or more components of a tactile user interface that stimulates a user's sense of touch and/or a user's perception related to the user's sense of touch including, but not necessarily limited to, a sense of surface temperature, a sense of surface topology, a sense of surface friction, a sense of numbness, a sense of mechanical pressure, a sense of mechanical distortion, a sense of motion, a sense of vibration, a sense of stickiness, a sense of slipperiness, a sense of attraction, and so on or any combination thereof.
For example, a low-friction tactile output and a low-temperature tactile output may be provided when an image of ice is shown on the display of the electronic device. The user perceives a slippery and cold surface when the user touches the ice image. In another example, a high-friction tactile output and a high-temperature tactile output may be provided when an image of beach sand is shown on the display. The user perceives a rough and hot surface when the user touches the beach sand image.
In other examples, the electronic device can provide a tactile output to virtual input regions shown on the display, such as a button, a key, a dial, and so on. In these examples, the electronic device can provide a first tactile output to an area of the surface within the virtual input region and a second tactile output to an area of the surface adjacent to the virtual input region (e.g., border or perimeter around the virtual input region). The different tactile outputs may define a boundary or perimeter of the virtual input region that can be felt by a user. In other cases, the electronic device can provide a tactile output so that the user can perceive a key or a symbol on the virtual input region (e.g., embossment).
Apple further notes that a tactile user interface is typically operated relative to an external surface of an electronic device that may be touched by a user. For example, a tactile user interface may be operated relative to a touch-sensitive display of an electronic device. In another example, a tactile user interface may be operated relative to a back or side surface of an electronic device housing (see patent figure below dating back to 2006). In yet another example, a tactile user interface may be operated relative to an external surface of an input component in communication with an electronic device such as, but not limited to, a button, a sliding switch, a stylus, a knob, a crown, an inertial movement tracking device, and so on.
Generally and broadly, Apple's patent FIGS. 1A and 1B depict an electronic device/iPad that incorporates a tactile user interface. The tactile user interface can be operated in an input mode, an output mode, or a combined mode. In the combined mode, the tactile user interface operates in both an input mode and an output mode simultaneously, or rapidly switches between an input mode and an output mode (e.g., time multiplexing).
In one embodiment, the individually-addressable segment #106 includes a thermal transducer configured, in an output mode, to increase or decrease the temperature of the outer protective layer of the electronic device. The thermal transducer can be implemented as a Peltier element, a resistive element, or any other suitable element configured to change temperature in response to an electronic signal. In some cases, the thermal transducer may simulate a temperature without physically changing temperature, for example by implementing the thermal grill illusion.
In another embodiment, the individually-addressable segment includes a force transducer configured, in an output mode, to exert a positive or negative magnitude force to the outer protective layer of the electronic device. The positive or negative magnitude force may be perceived by a user of the electronic device as a deformation of the outer protective layer, a vibration of the outer protective layer, a shifting of the outer protective layer, a clicking of the outer protecting layer, and so on.
The force transducer can be a piezoelectric element, an ultrasonic transducer, an electrically deformable material (e.g., nitanol), an electromagnet and attractor plate, or any other suitable element.
In other cases, the force transducer may be an eccentrically weighted motor, linear actuator, or any other suitable mechanical element. For example, the force transducer may be configured to distort one portion of the outer protective surface outwardly and another portion of the outer protective layer inwardly. In this example, a user may perceive different areas of the outer protective layer to exhibit a texture or surface topology.
In an input mode, the force transducer can output an electrical signal corresponding to a deformation of the outer protective layer which be received by the processor associated with the tactile user interface.
In another embodiment, the individually-addressable segment includes a friction transducer configured, in an output mode, to electrostatically attract or acoustically repel an object in proximity to the outer protective layer of the electronic device. The attraction or repulsion may be perceived by a user of the electronic device as high friction or low friction, respectively.
The friction transducer can include an electrostatic plate and an acoustic element, such as an ultrasonic transducer. The electrostatic plate may be supplied with a high voltage (e.g., greater than 75 volts) that causes the electrostatic plate to electrostatically attracts an object in proximity of the outer protective layer.
Apple's patent application was filed back in Q3 2016. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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