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A new Apple invention Reveals Future Macs that may include a Touch Display with Advanced Haptics

1 cover MacBook with touch display

Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to piezoelectric structures for providing haptic outputs to  future Macs. More importantly, the haptics will be applied to the palm rest area, the track pad and a touch display. It appears as though Apple is at least exploring the use of an advanced touch screen for a MacBook to catch up with Windows based laptops. It's a feature that Apple has regrettably fought against forever and a day while being a feature that their customers have voiced that they've wanted.

Is Apple listening?  Well, we actually got a hint that this feature was actually be considered during a WSJ interview where Joanna Stern asked Craig Federighi whether we'd ever see a touch screen on a Mac? Interestingly, Federighi responded with "Who's to say." That was the first time it wasn't a hard no. Now with today's patent, we understand why Federighi could say a definitive "no" knowing that they had filed for this patent.   

In Apple's patent background they note that Electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones often have different ways of notifying users of different events that occur. This can include playing sounds, providing haptic outputs such as a vibration, displaying a visual notification, and so on. The haptic output may be provided by an actuator that utilizes a vibratory motor or an oscillating motor. However, these vibratory motors typically vibrate the entire electronic device and are not able to provide a localized haptic output. Further, typical vibratory motors tend to be bulky, and it may be desirable to have haptic structures that can be positioned in smaller spaces and/or take up less room.

Apple's invention covers electronic devices, specifically a MacBook, that includes haptic modules for providing localized haptic outputs. The haptic modules can be coupled to an input mechanism of an electronic device, which can include touch-sensitive surface(s) such as a track pad, a touch-sensitive display and/or a virtual keyboard, or other housing structures.

The haptic modules can be coupled directly to an input mechanism and cause deformation of the input mechanism through actuation of a piezoelectric element. In some cases, multiple haptic modules can be positioned along an input mechanism to produce a unified output that results from the combination of the deformation caused by each haptic module.

Although not a part of Apple's summary is the fact that the patent covers haptics relating to a future touch display on MacBooks and possibly an iMac. Looking further out, Apple's haptics could be aimed at Project Titan also by adding haptics to a vehicle's dashboard or steering wheel.

Apple's patent FIG. 1 below shows an example of a MacBook that includes haptic structures for providing localized haptic outputs including a touch display that is further covered in FIG. 2. Read our notes included with the FIGS below for more details.  

2 touch screen haptics

Apple Inventors

  • Alex Lehmann: Product Design Engineer - Finite Element Analyst
  • Joonas Ponkala: Product Design Engineering Manager
  • Keith Hendren: Product Designer
  • Xian Wang: Engineering Manager, Electronic Product Design
  • Yulin (Kevin) Kao: Hardware Engineer
  • Kevin Armendariz: Mechanical Engineer


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