Last Thursday the US Patent & Trademark Office published a series of six patent applications from Apple covering their new Touch Bar for the MacBook. The patents also describe a Touch Bar destined for the iMac keyboard which likely means an accessory as well. The patents are divided into two distinct camps. The first group covers Apple's 'Adaptive Input Row' which is marketed as the Touch Bar. The second group covers 'restricted-access buttons' marketed as Touch ID, built into the right end of the Touch Bar.
Adaptive Input Row: Touch Bar
Three patent applications numbered 20170090596, 20170090597 and 20170090654 were published last Thursday covering a "Keyboard with an Adaptive Input Row."
The Touch Bar changes automatically based on what you're doing to show you relevant tools you already know how to use — system controls like volume and brightness, interactive ways to adjust or browse through content, intelligent typing features like emoji and predictive text, and more. And for the first time, Touch ID is available on a Mac, enabling instant access to logins and fast, secure online purchases with Apple Pay.
Technically, Apple notes that their invention relates to an electronic device having a keyboard or similar user-input device that includes an adaptive input row. The adaptive input row may include a display used to present a set of indicia or visual cues that correspond to a set of adaptive commands or functions. The adaptive input row may be responsive to a user touch, allowing selection of one or more of the set of adaptive commands or functions. The adaptive input row may be positioned above the set of alpha-numeric keys in the place of a traditional function row on a keyboard. In some cases, the adaptive input row can be used to perform the same functionality as a traditional function row, as well as perform an expanded and diverse set of commands and functions as described herein.
Some example embodiments are directed to an adaptive input row having a display that is configured to produce an adaptable set of visual indicia that correspond to an input mode of the adaptive input row. The indicia on the display may correspond to one or more of the following: a hardware-dependent input mode used to control one or more devices or hardware elements; a software-dependent input mode used to control one or more aspects of a software program being executed on the device; a user-defined mode that is configurable by the user; and other input mode examples which are described herein. The display may be used to present a set of static indicia, one or more animated indicia, or a combination of static and animated indicia.
The display may be integrated with one or more touch sensors and/or force sensors that are configured to detect various combinations of user touch and force input on the surface of the adaptive input row. The touch and/or force sensors may provide a touch-sensitive surface that is configured to detect the location of a touch, a magnitude of a touch, and/or a movement of the touch along the adaptive input row. The touch and/or force sensors may be used in combination or together to interpret a broad range of user touch configurations, including touch gestures, multi-touch input, and variable force input.
Some example embodiments are directed to an input row stack that includes a display positioned below a cover. The input row stack may also include one or both of a touch sensor and a force sensor. The touch and/or force sensor may be used to determine the position of a touch along the length of the row. In some implementations, the input row includes a touch-sensitive region that extends beyond a display region. The extended region may be used to perform dedicated functions or operations.
As noted in the patent figures below, the patents cover general Touch Bar interfaces which highlight that physical F-Keys are now replaced by an multitouch OLED display. One interface noted below as FIG. 2J shows that the Touch Bar could detect a contoured or curved gesture. No explanation is given as to what that gesture will apply to in the future.
Apple's patent FIG. 3 noted above depicts a simplified exploded view of the Touch Bar referred to in the patent as an "adaptive input row" #300 having both a touch sensor layer #306 and a force sensor layer #308 positioned under a cover #302. As shown in the simplified embodiment of FIG. 3, the touch layer may be positioned between a display #304 and the cover #302. The force layer may be positioned on a side of the display opposite to the touch layer.
In some embodiments, the force nodes #318 are formed from a strain-sensitive material, such as a piezoresistive, piezoelectric, or similar material having an electrical property that changes in response to stress, strain, and/or deflection.
Example strain-sensitive materials include carbon nanotube materials, graphene-based materials, piezoresistive semiconductors, piezoresistive metals, metal nanowire material, and the like. Each force node 318 may be formed from an individual block of strain-sensitive material that is electrically coupled to sensing circuitry.
The sensing nodes #316 may be formed by depositing or otherwise fixing a transparent conductive material to a substrate material. Potential substrate materials include, for example, glass or transparent polymers like polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or cyclo-olefin polymer (COP). Example transparent conductive materials include polyethyleneioxythiophene (PEDOT), indium tin oxide (ITO), carbon nanotubes, graphene, piezoresistive semiconductor materials, piezoresistive metal materials, silver nanowire, other metallic nanowires, and the like.
In some embodiments, the force nodes 318 are formed from a capacitive force-sensitive structure that includes at least two capacitive plates separated by a compliant or compressible layer. The force of a touch may cause the partial compression or deflection of the compressible layer and may cause the two capacitive plates to move closer together, which may be measured as a change in capacitance using sensing circuitry operatively coupled to each of the force nodes 318. The change in capacitance, which corresponds to an amount of compression or deflection of the compressible layer, may be correlated to an estimated (applied) force.
Apple's patent application was filed back in QX 201X3. For more details about this invention, click here. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Restricted-Access Button: Touch ID for Touch Bar
The second series of Touch Bar patents cover Touch ID integrated into the bar. Apple notes that the invention "generally relates to buttons that incorporate biometric sensors. A biometric sensor associated with such a button can be used by the electronic device to restrict access to features or functionality of the electronic device associated with that button. Such buttons are generally referred to herein as "restricted-access buttons."
Apple notes that "The electronic device (MacBook) can integrate a primary display into the top portion of the housing, a keyboard into the bottom portion of the housing, a secondary display into the bottom portion of the housing between the keyboard and the hinge, and a restricted-access button abutting an end of the secondary display within the bottom portion of the housing. The restricted-access button can include a biometric sensor, such as a fingerprint sensor.
In these embodiments, the electronic device can obtain an image of a fingerprint each time the restricted-access button is pressed by a user. Thereafter, the electronic device can determine whether the obtained fingerprint image matches that of a previously authorized user, and if so, the electronic device can perform an action.
Apple makes an interesting point about touch ID not having to be restricted to the Touch Bar. According to Apple, "a shutter button of a camera device can be a restricted-access button.
In some examples, the shutter button may be a multimodal button associated with both restricted functions and unrestricted functions. For example, an image capture function may be a restricted function whereas an autofocus function may be an unrestricted function. The camera may change the restriction status of a particular function from time to time. Herein, the phrase "restriction status" refers generally to whether a particular function of a restricted-access button is a restricted function or an unrestricted function.
In many embodiments, a restricted-access button is configured to integrate with other input components of an electronic device. For example, a restricted-access button may be incorporated as a key or keys of a keyboard.
Apple's Touch Bar patents relating to the Touch ID or "restricted-access buttons" were found under the following patent numbers: 20170090593, 20170091515 and 20170091436. All patents were filed in September 2016. The '593 patent could be reviewed here.
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