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Apple Invents a Virtual Ruler Tool for Future iWork Apps like Keynote, Pages, Numbers and Beyond



Before Apple's iPhone-7 event in September there was a little hope that we could see Apple introduce the ability to use the Apple Pencil with iPhone. Tim Cook was on record saying "And if you've ever seen what can be created with that pencil on an iPad or an iPhone, it's really unbelievable." Apple certainly has the patents supporting such a development and this week we got another look at what could be coming to the iPhone in regards to the use of Apple Pencil.


Back in May, Microsoft introduced the Virtual Ruler for their Surface Tablet. You could see it in action in the video below at the 5.44 minute mark and again at the 9:07 minute mark in connection with aligning graphic elements in PowerPoint.



This kind of drawing tool is coming to the iPhone and iPad. Apple's patent titled "Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Providing and Interacting with a Virtual Drawing Aid" shows us that the virtual drawing Aid is in fact a virtual ruler.


Patent Background


Apple notes in their patent background that computer-programs that provide virtual design and drawing tools have wide applicability in both industrial and personal use settings. Some applications provide free-hand sketching capabilities that allow a user to draw lines and objects based on free-hand movement of a contact (e.g., a contact made by a finger or stylus) on a touch-sensitive surface (e.g., a trackpad or touch-screen display). In addition to selecting the color and texture for a drawing tool (e.g., pen, brush, pencil, etc.) used, a user may wish to employ certain conventional drawing aids, such as a straight-edge ruler, a template, a protractor, an angle ruler, etc. It is inconvenient and difficult to use a real-world drawing aid with a virtual drafting environment. Thus, providing virtual drawing aids in computer programs that provide sketching capabilities will improve the functionality of the computer programs. It is challenging to provide virtual drawing aids in a way that are functional, efficient, and ease to use.


The Virtual Ruler


Apple's invention provides electronic devices with faster, more efficient methods and interfaces for providing and interacting with a virtual drawing aid. Such methods and interfaces optionally complement or replace conventional methods for providing and interacting with a virtual drawing aid. Such methods and interfaces reduce the burden on a user and produce a more efficient human-machine interface.


In some embodiments, the device is a desktop computer.


In some embodiments, the device is portable (e.g., a notebook computer, tablet computer, or handheld device).


In some embodiments, the device has a touchpad. In some embodiments, the device has a touch-sensitive display.


In some embodiments, the user interacts with the GUI primarily through stylus and/or finger contacts and gestures on the touch-sensitive surface.


In some embodiments, the functions optionally include note-taking, image editing, drawing, presenting, word processing, website creating, disk authoring, spreadsheet making, game playing, telephoning, video conferencing, e-mailing, instant messaging, workout support, digital photographing, digital videoing, web browsing, digital music playing, and/or digital video playing.


The method includes displaying an on-screen ruler in a sketch area in response to a predefined input. The on-screen ruler has a first edge and an interior portion delineated by the first edge.



Apple's patent FIG. 5N above illustrates snapping of a line drawn against an edge of a virtual drawing aid (e.g., edge #528 of straight-edge ruler #524) to a nearest snap location in response to braking motion at the end of a line-drawing gesture that drew the line; FIG. 10 is an overview of the processing unit that controls virtual ruler to act as physical ruler.


Apple notes that the "tactile output generator(s) receive tactile feedback generation instructions from a haptic feedback module and generates tactile outputs on the device that are capable of being sensed by a user of the device.


As shown in FIG. 5E below, in some embodiments, an angle indicator (e.g., angle indicator #532) is displayed on the virtual drawing aid (e.g., straight-edge ruler #524) to indicate the current orientation of the virtual drawing aid /ruler during the rotation of the virtual drawing aid. In some embodiments, the angle indicator automatically disappears after the rotation has stopped. In some embodiments, the virtual drawing aid automatically snaps to the nearest snap angle among a set of preset snap angles (e.g., every five degrees from 0-355 degrees) when the termination of the pivoting gesture is detected (e.g., when lift-off of one or both of the contacts #540 and #542 is detected).




Apple filed patent application 20160357430 back in Q3 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


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