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Apple Patent describes a future Digital Crown with 'Multi-Directional' input capabilities for a wide range of devices & accessories

1 cover graphic for digital crown patent report - Patently Apple

Today the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to advancing their input device known as the Digital Crown. Apple introduced the Digital Crown with Apple Watch, then advanced to allow a user to take an ECG. The Digital Crown was then integrated into Apple's AirPods Max headphones to precisely control volume, skip tracks, answer phone calls and more.

Then in August 2022, Patently Apple posted a report titled "Apple wins a Patent for their Digital Crown Input and Sensor System being applied to a future Mixed Reality Headset and Smartglasses. Eight months later (April 2023) Bloomberg's Mark Gurman leaked that Apple's XR Headset would gain the Digital Crown, confirming Apple's patent could come to life. And lastly, Patently Apple posted an IP report earlier this month point to Apple considering the Digital Crown for a future iPad.

The Digital Crown provides different functionality depending on the device that incorporates it. Today, a new patent application from Apple describes yet another possible key advancement coming to their Digital Crown input device. The patent title is "Input Devices with Multi-Directional Input Capabilities," which reveals the heart of this invention.

Apple notes that the patent is focused on buttons moveable by a user in multiple directions to register a translational input. In general, the input devices comprise a button that is moveable along any of a first set of different directions. The button may also be moveable in an additional direction that is perpendicular to each of the first set of different directions and/or rotatable around an axis of rotation. Movement in the additional direction may also be registered as a translational input, while rotation around the axis of rotation may be registered as a rotational input.

The Digital Crown can be translated in multiple different directions to register a translational input may allow a user to provide the input from a wider range of possible positions.

For example, Apple's patent FIG. 2A below shows a top view of one such variation of a button #200 that may be incorporated into the input devices.  The Button is rotatable around a rotational axis (as indicated by curved arrow 202), and also may be moved in a first set of different directions (as indicated by arrows 204), each of which may be perpendicular to the rotational axis.

2 Apple patent figs 2A  5G and 11B - Design variations of a next-gen Digital Crown - Patently Apple IP report

Apple's patent FIG. 5G above illustrates a top view of one such variation of Digital Crown #540 comprising a button #542 and a switch assembly comprising an annular cavity surface #543 defining an annular cavity #544, a first set of switches #546, and a stationary component (not shown). The annular cavity may be defined in either the button #542 or a stationary component, and the first set of switches may be fixedly connected to the other of the button #542 and the stationary component.

Apple's patent FIG. 11B above is another possible variation of a future Digital Crown.

Apple notes that any variant presented could possibly work with future devices such as Apple Watch, Head-Mounted devices (XR Headset, smartglasses), Tablets, Gaming Devices, as part of vehicle, keyboards, controllers, the iPad (as our patent report this month revealed) and even the iPhone.

Apple's patent describes the mechanics of this new multi-direction form of their Digital Crown but doesn't explain, for instance, what it will be able to execute in a Vehicle. Will it work with CarPlay or have another purpose? It doesn't explain what it could bring to a gaming controller, a keyboard. For now Apple is keeping much of the specific application functionality a secret.

For more details, review Apple's patent application number 20230162929.

Apple Inventors

  • Ben Jackson: Engineering Manager
  • Steven Taylor: Mechanical Design Engineer
  • Megan McClain: Mechanical Design Engineer. Apple's patent mentioned "Vehicles" as a possible application for today's invention. McClain's background just happens to be Volkswagen as a Mechatronics Engineer.
  • Brenton Baugh: Experience Design and Prototyping


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