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Apple Wins a Patent for Next-Gen Light-Based Touch Buttons & Controls for the iMac, Trackpads, Keyboards, Car Dashboards+

1 sm-image - light based touch controls


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 59 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we focus on a single patent that covers a new touch technology. Apple's invention describes light-based touch controls that could be applied to many surface materials from leather to smart fabrics, textiles, ceramics, plastic and aluminum. Being light based, function buttons could be invisible until a finger approaches the area and then they light up. Being light-based, the touch buttons can be customizable to be smaller or larger depending on what users want.


The light-based touch buttons could apply to a keyboard, MacBook trackpad or Magic trackpad. It could be applied to future appliances or a dashboard of a vehicle. Imagine having a nice clean dashboard and only when your finger approaches the dashboard will you see function buttons appear for things like air conditioning or volume adjusting buttons in CarPlay and then disappear when your finger is out of range.


Imagine the chin of a future iMac having invisible function buttons for volume or display controls that are only made visible as your finger approaches the chin.


Apple's patent FIG. 1A below depicts a user input device having a dimensionally configurable input region.


2 light-based touch inputs


Apple's patent FIG. 1B above depicts a cross-sectional view of the embodiment of the user input device of FIG. 1A.


More specifically, the housing #108 of FIG. 1 above may define a housing, casing or outer cover of user input device #104. In this regard, various components may be disposed within the housing to facilitate the operation of the user input device, including components for receiving a touch contact at the touch-sensitive surface #112 and generating a corresponding user input signal.


The housing may include a contact layer #130 that defines a top layer of the user input device. The top surface of the contact layer may be the touch-sensitive surface.


The contact layer may be constructed from a variety of materials as may be appropriate for a given application. In one instance, the contact layer may be formed from a "soft good" material (e.g., leather, textiles, fibers, vinyl, or the like) that exhibits compliant and flexible characteristics. For example, the contact layer 130 may be substantially compliant and flexible such that it does not permanently deform from applied force (e.g., the contact layer may substantially return to an original or undeformed shape after the force ceases).


In other instances, the contact layer may be formed from a metal, such as an aluminum plate, that may exhibit more rigid characteristics. Additionally or alternatively, the contact layer may be formed from a ceramic, a plastic or other polymer, and/or a fiber-matrix composite, and so on.


In some cases, it may be desirable for the contact layer to be substantially transparent, for example, to allow light emitted from within the housing to propagate through the contact layer (e.g., to illuminate the touch-sensitive surface). In other instances, the contact layer may include a pattern of microperforations #132 (of FIG. 1B) to allow light to propagate through the contact layer.


The user input device may also include a light source #136 disposed below the contact layer. The light source may illuminate a portion of the touch-sensitive surface associated with the dimensionally configurable input region #116a.


In this regard, the light source may illuminate the dimensionally configurable input region to indicate an increase and/or a decrease in the area of the dimensionally configurable input region.


In other embodiments, the light source may display an adaptable set or arrangement of virtual symbols across the dimensionally configuration input region to indicate a function with which the dimensionally configurable input region is associated.


Apple patent later states that a user input device may operate in the second mode in response to one or more of: an ambient light condition; ambient motion condition; or an image recognition condition.


Apple's patent FIG. 4A below depicts an embodiment of a dimensionally configurable input region on a user input device.


3 expandable light based touch-icons


Apple's patent FIG. 4B above depicts an embodiment of a dimensionally configurable input region on a user input device.


More specifically, Apple states that the dimensionally configurable input region #416a may be associated with a function that controls an operation of a computing device. As illustrated in FIGS. 4A and 4B, the dimensionally configurable input region may be associated with a "Volume Up" function, which may be indicated by a "+" symbol (e.g., a function to index or increase the volume of an audio output of a computing device).


Lastly, Apple's granted patent states that "In a particular embodiment, the dimensionally configurable input region may be defined by a variety of types of user input devices. Example devices may include a sensor or electrode array that is integrated into a touch panel, touch screen, track pad, or other user interface device."  


Additionally, Apple states that the user input device may be integrated or incorporated with another component or system including, for example, an electronic or computing device, a keyboard device, an appliance, a dashboard, or any other component that can be adapted to receive user touch input.


Further, the invention could apply to electronic devices that may include a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone, portable media player, or the like. Other examples of electronic devices may include wearable devices (including watches, glasses, rings, or the like), health monitoring devices (including pedometers, heart rate monitors, or the like), and other electronic devices, including digital cameras, printers, scanners, security systems or devices, or electronics for automobiles, among other electronic devices.


Apple's granted patent was originally filed in Q3 2016 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.


A few of Apple's inventors include:


Benjamin Jackson: Failure Analysis Engineer - iPad Tech Ops

Tom Hulbert: Designer


10.52FX - Granted Patent Bar

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