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Apple Invents Advanced "Active Stylus" to Work with iDevices

1.1 Apple Invents Advanced Stylus to Work with iDevices
Our last patent report for 2012 goes to a new patent application that was published by the US Patent office last week regarding an advanced "Active Stylus." Over the years, Apple has stated that they weren't interested in a 7" iPad and now it's going to be one of Apple's hottest selling products in 2013. Apple denied they had interest in a cellphone of their own and storing data in the sky, now the cloud, was quite humorous to Steve Jobs. Yes, Apple has said they weren't interested in certain products just to turn around and actually deliver them as the next great thing. The old boring dumb stick called the stylus is another one that Steve Jobs supposedly didn't like and at the time it made sense. Yet it's just a known fact that Apple's engineers have been working on "reinventing" the stylus for years now, contrary to their public stance. Even the idea that it was too easy to lose a stylus has been overcome with the advent of Apple's work with encoded magnets that's behind the iPad's Smart Cover product. Today, the stylus is more like a crayon than a pen. Samsung's Galaxy Note product with a stylus is a case in point. It just sucks as a pen. Apple's latest invention introduces the "active stylus" to overcome common stylus problems and names the iPhone and iPad by name as products that may be able to take advantage of the active stylus in the future. 


Apple's Patent Background


Touch screens can allow a user to perform various functions by touching the touch sensor panel using a finger, stylus or other object. More advanced touch screens are capable of detecting multiple touches simultaneously. In general, touch screens can recognize the position of the one or more touches on the touch sensor panel, and a computing system can then interpret the touches, either individually or as a single gesture 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.


When a stylus has been used as an input device in a capacitive touch system, the stylus has traditionally been finger-like in nature. A conventional stylus is often simply a conductive rod with a finger-sized rounded tip large enough to disrupt the electric field lines between the drive and sense electrodes of a capacitive touch sensor panel. As such, conventional styluses are passive input devices in that they are incapable of actively transmitting stimulus signals or sensing a touch-induced capacitance change in a capacitive touch sensor panel.


Apple's "Active Stylus" Solution


Apple's invention generally relates to a stylus that can act as a drive and/or a sense element in a capacitive touch system. Unlike conventional styluses which work passively by blocking electric field lines between the drive and sense electrodes of a capacitive touch sensor panel, the styluses disclosed in this patent filing can either act as a drive electrode to create an electric field between the drive electrode and the sense lines of a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel, or as a sense electrode for sensing capacitively coupled signals from one or more stimulated drive rows and columns of the touch sensor panel or both.


Accordingly, the styluses disclosed in this patent filing can be referred to as active styluses in comparison to conventional passive styluses. These active styluses can significantly improve stylus sensing on a mutual capacitive touch sensor panel without incurring significant additional cost. According to this patent, that translates to the "active stylus" being able to be used on Apple's iPhone and iPad which are directly listed as examples.


Apple's invention introduces various active styluses that can be free of some or all of the shortcomings of conventional passive styluses and can provide improved stylus sensing in a mutual capacitive touch system. An active stylus as discussed in Apple's invention can act as a drive electrode, sense electrode, or both in a mutual capacitive touch system.


Apple's patent FIG. 2 noted below illustrates an exemplary active stylus 200 configured as a drive electrode. The stylus will house a drive circuitry (204) connected to an electrode (202) at the distal end (i.e., tip) of the stylus. The drive circuitry will be able to generate a stimulus signal which can be actively transmitted from the electrode.


2. 1  Apple - Exemplary Active Stylus Configured as a Drive Electrode


Patent Credits


Apple's Engineering Manager Jonah Harley and Hardware Engineering Manager David Simon are the noted inventors of this patent which was filed under serial number 166726 in Q2 2011. Technically, Apple doesn't have to take assignment of an invention until it's about to be granted. This is done many times when Apple is trying to have an invention go through US Patent system relatively undetected as an Apple invention. That's why we pay such close attention to the names of Apple's engineers.


To review the details and patent claims of this invention, see Apple's Active Stylus patent application.



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What's interesting here is less the "active" nature of the Pen and more the way they're talking about doing it, which is definitely novel.

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