Apple adds a new Series of Ideas that Could Power a Next-Gen Stylus or Smart-Pen for the iPad and Beyond
On May 21, 2015, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals yet another stylus related invention. Apple's latest stylus would work with the iPad but could be used to sign documents on a MacBook Trackpad. Apple also hints of stylus-like device that a user could attach to their finger. Of course Apple has close to three dozen stylus patents that you could review in our smart-pen archives, so it's not like this one invention is going to be the final product. It's simply Apple's latest ideas that could advance a possible future stylus. Let's hope that one day – Apple's stylus theory will turn into a practical stylus product. It's been rumored for some time now that Apple's future iPad Pro may support a stylus to compete head-on with the Surface Pro model from Microsoft. It was also reported earlier this month that Apple could introduce a next generation display with added sensitivities that may be stylus friendly.
Apple's Patent Background
Touch sensor devices (such as touch screens, track pads, and/or any other device that interprets one or more touches as input) may detect the position of a touch as input. As part of such operation, touch sensor devices may include multiple touch sensitive areas. The position of the detected touch may depend on the touch sensitive area that is activated.
Some touch sensor devices may be utilizable with one or more implements, such as one or more styluses. For example, a stylus configured for use with a capacitive touch screen or track pad may include a tip that may affect the capacitance of one or more areas of the touch screen or track pad. Based on the detected capacitance of the various areas, the touch of the stylus may be detected and utilized as input.
However, input information from such a stylus or other implement may be limited to detecting the touch at the exact tip of the stylus or other implement. Unlike a finger, which may "mash" or otherwise be deformable to contact a variable area of a touch sensor, the physical area contactable by a stylus or other implement may not be controllable. As such, use of a stylus or other implement with a touch sensor may not be as flexible as use of a finger or other body part.
Invention: Expanded Function Touch Sensor Stylus
Apple's patent relates to systems and methods for expanded functionality of an implement such as a stylus that is utilized with a touch sensor device. A touch sensor device may include a number of receiving elements that are operable to receive signals from one or more of a number of transmitting elements when one or more areas of the touch sensor device are contacted with a stylus (or implement).
Such received signals may be interpreted by the touch sensor device as touch input. The implement may include a signal source and one or more selection elements that control the amplitude with which a signal from the signal source is provided to the touch sensor device. Such signals from the stylus may be received by one or more of the receiving elements of the touch sensor device and interpreted as touch input and/or non-positional information regarding other received touch input. In this way, the functionality of the implement when utilized with the touch sensor device may be enhanced.
In other implementations, the signal provided by the stylus may be interpreted by the touch sensor device as information corresponding to a detected touch other than positional information. Such information may indicate any kind of information regarding the touch and may include, but is not limited to, color information to be utilized with the detected touch, vibrancy information to be utilized with the detected touch, hue information to be used with the detected touch, brush stroke and/or other art implement information to be used with the detected touch, tone information to be used with the detected touch, line type information to be used with the detected touch, selection information to be used with the detected touch, and/or any other such touch related information.
Grip Sensor, Strain Gauge
In some cases, Apple notes that the selection element may be a grip sensor that senses the amount of force with which a user grips the implement. In other cases, the selection element may be a pressure sensor that senses an amount of pressure exerted on the implement by a user.
In still other cases, the selection element may be a strain gauge that detects a strain exerted by the user on the implement. In yet other cases, the selection element may be one or more buttons and/or any other element utilizable by a user to provide a range of inputs.
Apple's patent FIG. 1A is an isometric view of a system #100 for expanded functionality of a stylus or implement utilized with a touch sensor device such an iPad. Apple further notes that in various cases, the implement may be a device attachable to a user's finger, a pointer device, and/or any other kind of implement utilizable with the touch sensor device.
In Apple's patent FIG 1C, the touch sensor device may be a capacitive touch sensor device. As such, the area #106 may include metal elements #108 and #109. Apple further notes that in other embodiments, the touch sensor device may be a, an ultrasonic touch sensor device, a resistive touch sensor device, a projection touch sensor device, and/or any other kind of touch sensor device.
Apple's patent FIG. 1D below is a block diagram illustrating the functionality of an example implementation of the implement 101 of FIG. 1A. As illustrated, the implement may include a signal source #112 that is coupled to an amplifier #114 and the selection element #104 via a variable resistor #113. The output of the amplifier may be provided to a transmitter element #115 which may radiate the signal #116 outward from the implement.
More specifically, the selection element #104 may be a button that can be pressed by a user with varying degrees of force to cause the signal to be provided with a corresponding varying amplitude.
However, it is understood that this is an example. In various implementations, the selection element may be any kind of selection element utilizable to provide varying input. For example, such a selection element may be a grip sensor that senses the amount of force with which a user grips the stylus or implement to indicate a corresponding amplitude for the provided signal.
Alternatively, the stylus may have a pressure and/or similar sensor on the tip of the stylus that detects how hard or soft a user presses the tip of the stylus against a surface. In this way, the user may be able to control the amplitude of the signal by pressing harder or softer as opposed to having to separately control a selection mechanism coupled elsewhere to the stylus.
Apple also notes that there could be multiple buttons on the stylus used as a paint brush. Activation of a first button may provide the signal with a low amplitude to indicate that a round brush should be used. Further, activation of a second button may indicate to provide the signal with a medium amplitude to indicate that a square brush should be used. Additionally, activation of a third button may indicate to provide the signal with a high amplitude to indicate that a triangular brush should be used.
In another example, the stylus would be able to use a "spray can" feature that could be controlled by graphics software.
Alternate Stylus Design
In an alternate stylus design, Apple's patent FIG. 2A introduces a shielding element. FIG. 2A illustrates is a first side view of an alternative embodiment of the stylus that includes multiple shielding elements #117. In this embodiment, the various multiple shielding elements may be physically slideable to cover and/or reveal all portions of the implement from which the signal emanates.
In FIG. 2A the shielding elements are shown slid closed such that no signal is provided by the implement. In FIG. 2B, one of the shielding elements is shown slid fully open such that the signal is able to emanate unhindered in the direction of the portion revealed by the slid open shielding element.
The Stylus may use Variable Wireless Technologies
Apple notes that the stylus may include a transmitter (such as a WiFi transmitter, a Bluetooth transmitter, an infrared transmitter, a near field communication transmitter, a cellular communication transmitter, a satellite communication transmitter, and/or other such wired and/or wireless transmitter) that provides a signal to the touch sensor device where the amplitude of such a signal either affects the area of the image determined to be touched by the stylus by the camera(s) and/or indicates information regarding the touch of the area of the image detected by the camera(s).
Apple credits Christopher Herrick, Agustya Mehta as the inventors of patent application 20150138128 which was originally filed in Q 4 2013. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
Agustya Mehta worked at Apple as an electrical engineer up until late 2013 on projects related to Touch ID and the iPhone. He is now at Microsoft as a Senior Electrical Engineer working on the HoloLens project. Prior to moving to Apple, Mehta had been working on the Xbox team at Microsoft.
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