Apple wins a Patent for Finger Devices that are designed to cushion fingertips typing on a Hybrid Notebook's Virtual Keyboard
Today the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that relates to unique finger-mounted devices that will make typing on a full-size virtual keyboard feel more natural. The finger devices may be individual devices or as part of a glove.
Lenovo once introduced a dual display notebook with a keyless keyboard, as noted below, but have since cancelled it as users didn't like the feel of the virtual keyboard being a hard surface. Lenovo's second display allowed users to use the second display as a keyboard or a drawing pad or even convert it to being a 2-page electronic book. But it was primarily marketed as a virtual keyboard and on that front it failed.
Apple's granted patent technically notes that a user may provide finger press input to a touch sensitive input surface or other input surface. The input surface may be formed from a two-dimensional touch sensor overlapping a display of an electronic device. The electronic device and associated equipment such as a finger-mounted device may form a system for gathering the finger press input from the user.
A sensor such as an optical proximity sensor or capacitive proximity sensor may be used in monitoring when the finger-mounted device and a user's finger in the device approach the input surface of the electronic device. In response to detection of motion of the finger towards the input surface, actuators in the finger-mounted device may squeeze the finger inwardly. This causes a finger pad portion of the finger to protrude outwardly towards the input surface, thereby softening impact between the finger and the input surface.
The electronic device may also have an array of components that repel the finger-mounted device and/or the finger in response to detection of the motion of the finger towards the input surface. These components may produce repulsive force using electrostatics, magnetic repulsion or attraction, ultrasonic output, and mechanical output. The components may, as an example, include an array of electromagnetics overlapping the input surface that magnetically repel a component such as a permanent magnet in the finger-mounted device.
Apple's patent FIG. 13 presented below shows how the housing of finger-mounted device 26A may wrap under the tip of finger (#10) while leaving fingernail (#18) exposed. The finger mounted devices could be individually worn or a gloves-accessory could be used with the finger-mounted devices built-in.
Apple's patent FIG. 14 is a diagram of a user's finger with an optional finger-mounted device and an associated electronic device in a system.
Introducing a virtual keyboard has been a long standing research project at Apple. Getting around the stiffness of a second display doubling as a virtual keyboard was mentioned in a patent report that we posted earlier this month that related to a possible future alternative iPad keyboard accessory wherein Apple noted the the accessory could provide a virtual keyboard with a softer surface than that of the iPad's virtual keyboard that is hard on a user's fingers. Another patent figure from a November 2021 patent presented below illustrates a possible new iPad keyboard alternative with a secondary display that could support a virtual keyboard, an added iPad surface for drawing or having a large gamepad for instance.
Today's granted patent for finger devices is Apple's second granted patent, with the first granted in 2018. Apple has added 18 new patent claims to their original patent so as to better protect it from patent trolls and competitors. Below are just a few of the new patent claims.
- An electronic device configured to be worn on a finger of a user as the finger is moved towards a surface, the finger having a fingertip with a fingernail, a finger pad, and side portions that extend from the fingernail toward the finger pad, the electronic device comprising: a body configured to be coupled to the finger, wherein the body has a movable portion; control circuitry; a plurality of vibrators coupled to the body that are configured to be selectively activated by the control circuitry to apply feedback to selected portions of a single one of the side portions of the finger; and a component that is configured to apply additional feedback to the finger by moving the movable portion toward the finger.
- The electronic device defined in claim 2 wherein the actuator is selected from the group consisting of: an electromagnetic actuator, a motor, a piezoelectric actuator, an electroactive polymer actuator, a vibrator, a linear actuator, a rotational actuator, and an actuator that bends a bendable member.
- The finger-mounted device defined in claim 11 wherein the plurality of actuators are configured to squeeze the finger varying amounts as the finger is moved over a surface to create a sensation of texture.
To review the full patent and the other 13 new patent claims, review Apple's granted patent 11,442,615. Patently Apple has covered a wide range of patent relating to wearable rings, devices and gloves in our 'Accessories' archive that you could review here.