Apple Introduces the Incredible Shape Shifting Device Interface
On June 24, 2010, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals various concepts behind a newly advanced shape shifting device interface that could transform a flat interface into a physical 3D embodiment. It could create a physical tactile keypad on a future iPhone or iPod Classic interface and technically provide the iPad with a physical-like keyboard. This incredible concept is packed with wild concepts that could transform a device automatically by simply being in a room with a notable temperature change. The concept could alter an iPod Classic to be a TV remote with various buttons in a configurable interface that will blow your mind. This is definitely a candidate for patent of the year and if Apple ever gets this out to market, it's ball game over for the iPhone and iPod wannabe's of this world.
Many types of input devices are presently available for performing operations in a computing system, such as buttons or keys, mice, trackballs, touch sensor panels, joysticks, touch pads, touch screens and the like. Touch screens and touch pads, in particular, are becoming increasingly popular because of their ease and versatility of operation as well as their declining price. Touch screens can include a touch sensor panel, which can be a clear panel with a touch sensitive surface, and a display device that can be positioned behind the panel so that the touch sensitive surface can substantially cover the viewable area of the display device. Touch screens can allow a user to perform various functions by touching the touch sensor panel using one or more fingers, a stylus or other object at a location dictated by a user interface (UI) comprising virtual buttons, keys, bars, displays, and other elements, being displayed by the display device. In general, touch screens can recognize a touch event and the position of the touch event on the touch sensor panel, and the computing system can then interpret the touch event in accordance with the display appearing at the time of the touch event, and thereafter can perform one or more actions based on the touch event.
Similarly, touch pads can include a touch sensor panel having a touch sensitive surface. Touch pads can allow a user to perform various functions by touching the touch sensor panel using one or more fingers, a stylus or other object at a location dictated by a UI comprising a touch space. In general, touch pads can recognize a touch event and the position of the touch event on the touch sensor panel, and the computing system can then interpret the touch event in accordance with the position of the touch event, and thereafter can perform one or more actions based on the touch event.
Touch screens and touch pads can typically have a smooth fixed outer surface through which inputs/outputs can be made. For example, the outer surface can act as an input mechanism that receives touch inputs such as taps, slides and other gestures. With touch screens, the outer surface can further act as a window for displaying text and graphics that change during use. In most cases, the physical surfaces of these devices can be smooth and fixed. In some cases, they can be flat and planar. They generally do not include tactile features like buttons and therefore can be used across many modes, applications or platforms. However, because these surfaces generally do not include tactile features, the user can have a difficult time locating UI elements without looking at the visual screen to ensure that the desired location is touched.
This relates to a user interface that can physically change topography to create different tactile configurations at the user interface surface. In some embodiments, the user interface can change topography according to a desired user interface state. The user interface state can, for example, be based on a mode of an electronic device in which the user interface is used and/or a particular preference of a user. In some embodiments, the user interface can change topography according to an event, such as a touch event on the user interface surface. The changing topography can define different user interface layouts according to the needs of device.
In some embodiments, the user interface can include a shape changeable surface configured to selectively alter topography of the user interface so as to provide a variable tactile feel of the user interface. The shape changeable surface can include individual nodes that can be raised above or lowered below the initial surface. Alternatively, the shape changeable surface can include shape changeable material that can change shape to form discrete shapes above or below the initial surface. Alternatively, the shape changeable surface can include deformable material that can deform into discrete forms above or below the initial surface.
In some embodiments, the user interface can include shape changeable nodes proximate to the user interface surface and configured to selectively alter so as to alter a proximate region of the surface in order to alter topography of the user interface. The nodes can include electromechanical devices that can move to push against or pull away from the surface. Alternatively, the nodes can include shape changeable elements that can change shape to push against or pull away from the surface. Alternatively, the nodes can include deformable elements that can deform to push against or pull away from the surface.
The Shape Shifting Device
In the big picture, Apple's invention could very well be applied and marketed on a variety of their products including the iPhone, iPod and MacBook. As presented below, patent figures 54-56 illustrate a variety of shape shifting device applications. Such a device could be positioned within a touch sensitive zone, as noted below. Note: throughout this patent report the terms "shape change device" and "shape shifting device" or "change" and "shift" are considered to be one and the same.
A shape shifting device based interface could amazingly change the physical topography of an area to create different tactile configurations at the surface. In some embodiments, the user interface could change topography according to a desired "user interface state." The user interface state could, for example, be based on a mode of an electronic device in which the user interface is used and/or a particular preference of a user.
The changing or shifting topography could define different user interface layouts. The user interface could, for example, be associated with input and/or output devices, such as touch pads, touch screens, and the like.
The topographical change or shift could be implemented by a shape changeable surface that could include one or more alterable nodes. The nodes could be altered either individually or in combination and be associated with certain user interface elements. For example, the nodes could be altered to define or form a physical or virtual button, a key, a navigation pad, a scroll wheel, and the like. In some embodiments, the nodes could comprise electromechanical devices that could move from one level to another to form raised and lowered regions of the user interface.
Shape Shifting Nodes
Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below illustrates an exemplary user interface that could change topography having shape changeable nodes 12 to change the topography of the user interface. A topographical (or shape) change can be defined as a change in height, width, length, orientation, configuration, layout, texture, pattern, three-dimensional form, and the like of all or a portion of the surface associated with the user interface.
The change could be implemented by physically altering individual shape changeable nodes, as in patent FIG. 2 above, or by physically altering a group of shape changeable nodes, as shown in patent FIG. 3.
The nodes could include an actuator that could change between physical states, thus causing the nodes to change. For example, the actuator could include a moving member that could move the node from an initial state to a raised or lowered state or that could deform, rather than move, the surface in order to create a shape change. In so doing, the topography of the user interface could be selectively changed.
As should be appreciated, many different physical layouts can be used for any number of modes of a device. In addition, a particular topography could remain static during a particular mode to provide a particular tactile feel. Alternatively, the topography could dynamically change during a particular mode to provide a variety of tactile feels.
Rows and columns or matrices of shape changeable nodes 12 could cooperate to change topography of a user interface. For example, individual nodes could be altered to create distinct pixel shape changes at the user interface surface. Alternatively, nodes could be altered together to form a larger area or a group of pixel shape changes at the user interface surface. Shape changeable nodes could also comprise a shape changeable membrane that could expand and contract when stimulated by an electrical or magnetic signal or by chemical stimulus.
Movable or deformable parts could underlie the node surface. For example, electromechanical devices, e.g., micro actuators, microelectromechanical devices, or piezoelectronics, could have movable physical components that move up and down when stimulated by a mechanical force or an electrical or magnetic signal, thereby moving the overlying surface.
It should be noted that the surface could change in real time during the touch event. The change could be based on touch location, acceleration, direction, size and number of touch points. Basically, any characteristic of the touch event could affect the topography.
The Morphing Topography
Apple's patent FIG. 6 shown below illustrates an exemplary touch screen that could change topography. The touch screen 60 could include shape changeable surface 61 having a plurality of movable touch screen blocks 62. In some cases, the touch screen blocks could be proximate to one another and more particularly adjacent to one another. They could be positioned together to form a user interface having a wide variety of shapes (e.g., square, rectangle, circle, plus, cross, X, concentric, annular, etc.). They could for example be positioned in rows and/or columns in order to form a substantially rectangular user interface (as shown). Each of the touch screen blocks could include a display and touch sensor(s). The touch screen blocks could work individually or be configured to cooperate with one another to form one large touch screen display.
The movement of the touch screen blocks could be widely varied. In one embodiment, the touch screen blocks could be configured to move up and down from a nominal position. The nominal position of the blocks could form a tapered, curved or flat surface. In the illustrated embodiment, the nominal position of the blocks could form a substantially flat planar surface. That is, each of the touch screen blocks can include a flat planar surface, the upper surface of which can be level with the other blocks when in the nominal position. Depending on the desired needs of the device, the touch screen blocks could raise, lower and/or remain in the nominal position in order to affect a topography change at the surface 61. This can be accomplished while adjusting the display elements being presented and the touch sensors being active on the touch screen blocks.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 illustrates an exemplary touch screen having a user interface that could change topography to form virtual buttons according to embodiments of the invention. In the example of FIG. 7, touch screen 70 could have a desired user interface state in which the user interface could display two virtual buttons 73 and 74 in the display 79. As such, shape changeable nodes 72 overlaying the displayed buttons 73 and 74 could be raised on the surface 71, thereby informing the user of the location of the buttons to be touched. The underlying display 79 could display "OK" and "Cancel" user interface elements in the display regions corresponding to the raised nodes. A computing system could have functions associated with these displayed elements that could execute when the user touches the buttons 73 and 74.
One example of a raised topography could be applied to the icons laid out on an iPhone or iPod touch. Interestingly, one of Apple's engineers slipped in a version of the iPhone that is interesting. The design shows a model with a physical keyboard lid. Is this engineering humor or insight?
In Apple's patent FIG. 8 shown above we see an exemplary touch screen having a user interface that could change topography to form a virtual keypad according to embodiments of the invention. In the example of FIG. 8, touch screen 80 could have a desired user interface state in which the user interface could display virtual keypad 85 in the display.
Examples of Shifting Node Formations
In a phone state, as in FIG. 20, the shape changeable nodes could create the keypad and the adjustable identifiers could produce the numbering for each key. In a media player state, the shape changeable nodes could create a navigation pad and the adjustable identifiers could produce the control characters, such as "menu," "play/pause," and the like. This could for example be accomplished with illumination, mini displays, and the like.
In the examples of FIGS. 18 through 23, the shape changeable nodes could have a flexible membrane that could be stretched, retracted, or otherwise flexed by underlying movable or deformable parts. The individual nodes or the shape changeable membrane could an also be used instead of the flexible membrane.
Shape Shifter Nodes and Materials
In the example of FIG. 24, user interface 240 could include a plurality of selectable shape changeable nodes 248 spread about a surface 241. The surface could be made of a membrane of flexible or deformable material, e.g., elastic, silicone, soft plastic, or materials that can temporarily deform into a discrete shape or form before returning to its original shape or form, with a front side that can receive a touch and a back side opposite the front side that can receive change from the nodes 248.
The patent goes on to state that the actuators could be made up of shape changeable material (symbolically illustrated by the circles in FIG. 24), such as nitinol, piezocrystals, and other suitable materials that could elongate, shrink, or rotate to change shape. Generally speaking, shape changeable materials change their shape upon a stimulus such as electric current, magnetic, light, pressure or heat as is noted below. Wikipedia states that nitinol is considered a shape memory alloy or "smart metal" that is used in areospace applications.
Shape Shifting Based on Room Temperature
Generally speaking, shape changeable materials change their shape upon a stimulus. The stimulus could be electrical current, heat, magnetic, light, pressure, and the like. In one example, the shape changeable material could have a transformation temperature at which the material can transform from a predetermined original shape into a predetermined new shape. The transformation temperature could generally be above room temperature such that, upon heating, the material could transform into the new shape. Conversely, when the electrical current is terminated, the material could cool to room temperature and transform back to its original shape.
In Apple's patent FIGS. 37 and 38 we see exemplary touch pads having a user interface that could sense a touch or near touch and change topography according to embodiments of the invention. In the example of FIG. 38, touch pad 380 could similarly have a series of nodes 382 that could change the shape of surface 381 to form circular scroll wheel 384.
Apple credits Shuvo Chatterjee and Quin Hoellwarth as the inventors of patent application 20100162109, originally filed in Q1 2009.
This patent could be a game changer - especially for the iPod Classic perhaps. The majority of the examples that Apple has presented in this patent are a glove fit for the iPod Classic, even more so than the iPhone. This way the lower section of the iPod could be utilized to morph into several devices and breath some new life into the middle iPod that's at bit of a loss for direction. It would be easier to morph a plastic material into various configurations tthan it would glass - especially the new gorilla glass that Apple has just implemented in their iPhone 4. The same would be true for a morphing MacBook trackpad area. At the end of the day, these are the likely areas that Apple may first pursue with this technology.
Other Noteworthy Patent Applications (PA) Published Today
PA 20100156818 - Multi-Touch with Multi-Haptics: Once you've delved in the patent noted above, coming down to earth with a more tame look at multi-haptics is, well, a bore. Yet Apple is likely to implement some of this technology prior to leap frogging the industry with its shape-shifting technnology that takes haptics to an all new level. Techies may enjoy this patent.
PA 20100156184 - Battery Charging System for Mobile and Accessory Device: Apple's patent generally relates to a method and system for recharging batteries for wireless electronic devices. The system includes a host machine providing a plurality of charging slots and a plurality of wireless devices coupled to and powered by a plurality of batteries. Apple was granted two patents covering this invention in March 2010.
PA 20100162012 - Reporting Flash Memory Operating Voltages: Apple's patent generally relates to flash memory devices, and particular implementations may relate to methods and systems for reporting operating voltage information stored in a flash memory device.
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Our Report is also Covered By: MacSurfer, Apple Investor News, 9 to 5 Mac, MacDailyNews, Applesfera Spain, imjustcreative, MacKozer Poland, The New York Times Bits (What We're Reading), MacNation Denmark and more. Our report is also included in a report by Jonny Evans being covered by both Computerworld and MacWorld.
@kensai. Yes - like this device perhaps:
Sounds plausible. Thanks for the contribution.
Posted by: Jack Purcher | June 25, 2010 at 12:38 PM
I have a reason to believe that this shape shifting interface will not go to the iPhone/iPod/iPad as the patent images show, but to the future iMacs with touchpad. Probably Apple shows it with the mobile devices to divert the prying eyes of competitors. :)
If this patent ever makes it to production, an amazing touchpad that becomes keyboard might come out of it.
This will mean we're gonna have all the advantages of a touchpad plus a hardware morphing keyboard for productive typing.
Posted by: Kensai | June 25, 2010 at 12:25 PM
Tellrad did it in Israel 50 years ago in telephone routing equipment designed to be used by blind telephone operators. It worked. By law telephone operator jobs were reserved for the blind, war veterans as well as visually impaired because other reasons. The user interface consisted of buttons with a rising cylindrical center. The operator felt the console to receive information and was able to flatten the rising cylinder as well as push the button. One advantage was that at the time (before screens) operators had to listen to the calling party in order to obtain information that blind operators received faster by touch. Blind people who took those jobs ended up memorizing institutional phone book and recognizing the voice of everyone in the organization.
Posted by: MFR | June 25, 2010 at 02:42 AM
It makes sense to have the UI switch interfaces and raise/lower for the active object you want to message. Virtual interfaces galore can be created with this design patent.
Posted by: Marc J. Driftmeyer | June 25, 2010 at 12:28 AM
I could see how this could become a new API for the developers to play with, along the same lines as the current iPhones have accelerometers, gyros, etc. This really would change the iPhone into the platform of a developers wet dream -- imagine the possibilities in games and apps!
Posted by: mKeilow | June 24, 2010 at 05:13 PM
Whoa, Rikki, you hit that one out of the park! Good eye. I was wondering, as did the author, what Apple was doing with slipping in that design. Now the idea is down to earth and more likely to be something we may see in the future. Thanks guy.
Posted by: Bob | June 24, 2010 at 01:40 PM
Figure 9 is the key. The design on the right with what you think is a slideout keyboard is where the secret rests. It's not a slideout keyboard, it's a slide out shape shifting or morphing surface. One that could be a keyboard or game pad or TV remote or other preconfigured or custom device controller. The key to this rests with Figure 9. Number 9, number 9, number 9. Well that's what my crystal ball tell me :)
Posted by: Rikki | June 24, 2010 at 01:35 PM