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Apple Files a Patent Specifically to Legally Protect their Tactile Feedback System



Patently Apple posted a patent report back on September 29, 2016 titled "Apple Invents a Magnetic Array System Allowing an Apple Pencil to Securely Attach to an iPad +." The patent application covered many applications for the use of electromagnetics. The patent shows Apple is working on a new magnetics system that will allow a future Apple Pencil to attach to the side of an iOS device such an iPhone or iPad. The new magnetics system could also allow two iPads to be attached side-by-side like a notebook; be a part of a new protective case mechanism to better protect against free-falls and provide advanced feedback for playing a virtual piano in GarageBand – which already exists. Apple was granted this patent back in July 2017.


Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a continuation of that patent with emphasis on a single function related to tactile feedback and a tactile feedback unit.


This isn't new to the patent, just new to it being legally protected under Apple's patent claims. While one Apple blog today is claiming that Apple is investigating this tactile feedback, the fact is that Apple has already implemented it in the real world and it's not "advanced 3D Touch" to begin with. It boils down to Force Touch with a 3D visual component aided by Apple's magnetic system; big difference.


A continuation patent is limited to the changes or additions made to an established patent. The changes will be found in the patent claims of the new patent filing. So what's actually "new" this time around from their already established granted patent? Apple has put emphasis on using a tactile feedback unit that provides tactile feedback on a display.


Tactile feedback and a tactile feedback unit was always a part of one segment of the original and granted patent. The difference is that Apple legal wanted that segment of the patent emphasized and protected. In any legal patent case, it's the claims that defend the patent and elements of the invention. The tactile feedback components weren't part of the granted patent claims.


The tactile feedback and feedback unit is actually limited to patent FIGS. 5A to 5D with FIG. 5B being a prime figure to point out as noted below. It could apply to a future version of GarageBand as was covered in our original report. Though FIG. 5B illustrates one component that is noteworthy. If you blink, you'd easily miss it.



In Apple's patent FIG. 5B we're able to see how a flexible display can be configured to indicate various areas of the top layer that define user inputs. When a touch is detected by a touch sensor of the display within one of the indicated areas, such as one of areas 514, 516 or 518, magnetic elements #506 and #510 lying beneath the indicated area in which the touch is detected can be coupled together, so that when one of the magnetic elements is compressed electromagnets #512 drive the other magnetic elements #510 to follow the magnetic element receiving the force.


The key is this: Apple notes that "Area #518 is depicted in an actuated state in which multiple magnetic elements move together to provide the appearance of a large key being temporarily depressed in response to a user input. While a generic pattern of buttons is depicted it should be understood that any desired pattern of keys can be defined by the flexible display and the magnetic element arrays."


In other words, parts of a flexible display in-tune with an application such as the piano in GarageBand can illustrate the keys being depressed when a user hits a key. It's not just a flat surface but actually depressed in real time to make it look like you're actually hitting a real piano key.


While Apple may apply this to more apps in the future, the fact is that this invention is one that's fulfilled. Another Apple site today has a byline that states that Apple is "Investigating Advanced 3D Touch." No they're not; it's already in the market with the Piano in GarageBand being the proof. It's not advanced 3D Touch; it's Force Touch with a 3D visual element.


The video here shows you (as does our cover graphic) that when a key of a piano in GarageBand is hit, the key actually moves down as if were really being depressed. This is what the patent is covering.


Technically: The New Patent Claims Focused on "Tactile Feedback"


The following are the patent claims that have been added with emphasis on 'tactile feedback.' Apple starts in Claim #1 that "an externally applied force is applied to the protective cover, a portion of the display layer moves towards the substrate layer such that a magnetic circuit is formed between the first and second arrays of magnetic elements, thereby providing a tactile feedback at the portion of the display layer."


Claim #6: The consumer electronic product as recited in claim 1, wherein the tactile feedback is variable based on an application setting.


Claim #8: The consumer electronic product as recited in claim 7, wherein the tactile feedback is variable based on an amount of current supplied to the electromagnet or the electro permanent magnet.


Claim #9: A display assembly carried by a consumer electronic product, comprising: a display layer that is capable of presenting visual content; a substrate layer; a touch sensor coupled to the display layer, the touch sensor capable of detecting touch events; and a tactile feedback unit coupled to the display layer and capable of providing a tactile feedback, the tactile feedback unit comprising a magnetic element carried by the display layer and an electromagnet carried by the substrate layer, the electromagnet capable of being activated to form a magnetic circuit with the magnetic element, wherein when a touch event is detected at the display layer, the electromagnet is activated to form the magnetic circuit with the magnetic element that provides the tactile feedback.


Claim #15: The display assembly as recited in claim 9, wherein the tactile feedback unit is capable of providing variable tactile feedbacks.


Claim #16: The display assembly as recited in claim 15, wherein the variable tactile feedbacks are based on an application setting.


Claim #17: A method for operating an input device, the input device comprising a substrate layer, a display layer separated from the substrate layer, a first magnetic element carried by the substrate layer, and a second magnetic element carried by the display layer, the second magnetic element forming a magnetic circuit with the first magnetic element, the method comprising: displaying an input element on the display layer; detecting a change in a strength of the magnetic circuit caused by a depression of the display layer at the input element; and activating an electromagnet to provide a tactile feedback at the input element when the change in the strength of the magnetic circuit exceeds a threshold value.


Apple's continuation patent application 20170300087 was filed back June 2017. To confirm the updated patent claims see the patent here. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


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