On January 30, 2014, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a possible future iPad bezel that will allow for gesture and touch input detection through Force Sensing. This will allow for virtual buttons to be incorporated right into the iPad's bezel. Apple first revealed their initial work on force sensors back in July 2013 and various aspects of smart bezels in April and December 2011.
Apple's Patent Background
Many types of input devices may be used to provide input to computing devices, such as buttons or keys, mice, trackballs, joysticks, touch screens and the like. Touch screens, in particular, are becoming increasingly popular because of their ease and versatility of operation. Typically touch screens can include a touch sensor panel, which may 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 substantially covers the viewable area of the display device. Touch screens allow a user to provide various types of input to the computing device by touching the touch sensor panel using a finger, stylus, or other object at a location dictated by a user interface 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.
Touch sensor panels can be formed from a matrix of row and column traces, with sensors or pixels present where the rows and columns cross over each other while being separated by a dielectric material. Each row can be driven by a stimulation signal, and touch locations can be identified through changes in the stimulation signal. Typically, a touch location is sensed based on an interference of the stimulation signal, such that a touch location may correspond to a location where the stimulation signal is the weakest. Touch sensor panels may generally be configured to detect touches from a user's fingers, which generally have a surface area that contacts the touch sensor panel to disturb the stimulation signal sufficiently for touch location to be recognized.
In some instances, computing devices incorporating touch screens may be configured to detect one or more gestures as user inputs. For example, a first type of finger movement, such as a user moving two fingers away from each other may indicate a first type of input (e.g., a zoom-in command), whereas a second type of finger movement, such as a user moving two fingers towards each other may indicate a second type of input (e.g., a zoom-out command). However, in some instances, if a user begins a gesture just outside of the touch screen sensing region, such as towards an edge of the device, the gesture may be difficult to detect because only a portion of the gesture may be detected by the touch screen. In these instances, computing devices may sense inputs that may be different from a user's intended input.
Apple Invents Gesture and Touch Input Detection through Force Sensing
Apple's invention generally relates to computing devices, and more specifically, to detecting inputs for computing devices. One example of the present disclosure may take the form of a computing device configured to detect a user input. The computing device includes a processor, a touch interface in communication with the processor and configured to detect a touch signal corresponding to an object approaching or contacting a surface, and at least three force sensors in communication with the processor and configured to detect a force signal corresponding to an object exerting a force on the surface. In response to the force the processor determines a force centroid location and the touch signals are processed by the processor by analyzing the force centroid location.
Another example of the disclosure may take the form of a method for detecting user inputs to a computing device through force sensing. The method includes detecting by three or more force sensors a force input, calculating by a processor in communication with the force sensors a force centroid based on the force input, and using the force centroid to analyze one or more user inputs to the computing device.
Yet another example of the disclosure may take the form of a mobile computer configured to detect at least two types of user inputs. The mobile computer includes a processor, a touch screen in communication with the processor, and at least three pressure sensors in communication with the processor. The touch screen is configured to detect a touch signal corresponding to a user finger approaching or contacting the touch screen. The at least three pressure sensors are configured to detect a pressure signal corresponding to an object proving pressure on a surface. In response to the pressure signal the processor determines a centroid location relative to the surface and the touch signal is processed by the processor by analyzing the centroid location.
Apple further notes that the force sensors may be distributed along different portions of the computing device, and generally may be operably connected to a cover surface. The cover surface may cover at portion if not all of the touch screen and/or an enclosure, such as a protective glass layer covering the touch screen or other portions of the computing device. The cover surface may extend over the touch screen, as well as other non-touch sensitive portions of the computing device. For example, in some instances the computing device may include a "black mask" portion or other enclosure area of the display that may border a portion, if not all, of the touch screen, but may not be sensitive to capacitive or touch inputs.
In some embodiments, the force sensors may be used to detect inputs on non-touch sensitive regions of the computing device. For example, if a user applies a force on the black mask, the force sensors may detect the input force and/or its location. Additionally, the force sensors may be used to enhance detection of inputs on the touch sensitive regions of the computing device. In these embodiments, the force sensors may enhance detection of input gestures that may begin on the non-touch sensitive surface, as well as may provide additional input receiving mechanisms which may allow the non-touch sensitive surfaces of the computing device to receive user inputs.
The force sensors 110, 112, 114, 116 noted in patent FIG. 1 below are configured to sense an input force, or a change in a sensed force, that may be applied to the cover surface #106, the enclosure #104, and/or touch interface #102.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted above is a top plan view of an iPad including a touch interface for detecting one or more touch inputs; FIG. 2 is a simplified block diagram of the iPad of FIG. 1; and FIG. 3 is a simplified cross-section view of the iPad taken along line 3-3 in FIG. 1.
Apple's patent FIG. 4A noted below is a top plan view of a user providing an input gesture to an iPad; FIG. 4B is a top plan view of a first force centroid and a second force centroid corresponding to the input gesture of FIG. 4A; and FIG. 4C is a top plan view illustrating a force centroid location and a touch centroid location based on one or more user inputs.
In Apple's patent FIG. 6 noted below, the buttons noted along the right side may be virtual in that they may not include a mechanical switch, but may be selected based on the location of the force centroid. In other words, a specific button 152, 154 may be determined to be selected by a user if the force centroid is closer towards a particular button.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted below is a flow chart illustrating a method for detecting user inputs and touch gestures using force sensors.
Apple credits Wayne Westerman and Nima Parivar as the inventors of patent application 20140028575 which was originally filed in Q3 2012.
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