Wow, what a week it's been for Apple's future iPen. It began on Tuesday with a surprise granted patent focused on iPen orientation detection followed by three detailed patent applications covering a multitude of features on Thursday. And while we were busy writing those reports we happen to stumble upon two more iPen patent applications that Apple filed in Europe that same day. The main patent filing is a spectacular overview of a modular iPen design that would allow users to choose different modules for different tasks. One feature, for example, would allow a student or business user giving a presentation to use this iPen as an advanced laser pointer. Apple's latest European filing is without a doubt one of the most sophisticated of them all to date. It's intelligently designed so that Apple will be able to introduce new accessory "expansion modules" over time so as to keep the iPen up to date with the latest and greatest features. In fact, Apple's patent application provides us with a number of possible iPen expansion module examples that they already have in mind.
As we noted earlier this week, the late Steve Jobs wasn't a big fan of the "dumb stylus" of yesteryear that was basically a tiny plastic stick – and so he set out to reinvent it. The project now has over 22 known patents on record and this week we've been shown once again that Apple is still determined to continue this work until their breakthrough design is finally achieved. With that said, let's dig in to Apple's current invention.
Apple's Patent Background
Touch sensitive devices have become popular as input devices to computing systems due to their ease and versatility of operation as well as their declining price. As touch sensing technology continues to improve, touch sensitive devices are increasingly being used to compose and mark-up electronic documents. In particular, styluses have become popular input devices as they emulate the feel of traditional writing instruments.
However, while touch technology has greatly improved over the past few years, little has been done to improve the stylus itself. Most conventional styluses simply include a tip configured to interact with the touch sensitive device and an optional pen insert for writing on paper. As a result, conventional styluses suffer from poor performance and offer limited functionality.
Apple Invents the Modular iPen
Apple's invention generally relates to touch sensitive devices and, more specifically, to a modular stylus for use with touch sensitive devices. Further, this invention reveals modular styluses having a base module and one or more expansion modules.
According to Apple, the base module could include a stylus tip, a stylus stimulation signal circuit capable of generating a stimulation signal, a processor for controlling the stylus stimulation signal circuit, and a connection interlace for selectively connecting the base module to one of the expansion modules.
Each of the expansion modules could include one or more of a power source, camera, audio recorder, communication circuit, gyroscope, accelerometer, laser pointer, projector, or the like.
Apple states that the projector could be used to display an image on a surface and to allow a user to edit a document by moving the stylus across the projected image. Alternatively, the projector could be included within the base module.
Overview of the Modular Stylus/iPen
Apple's patent FIG. 2 noted below provides us with a view of a block diagram of an exemplary modular stylus; FIG. 3 illustrates a block diagram of an exemplary base module; FIG. 4 illustrates a block diagram of another exemplary base module that adds a projection circuitry component.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 illustrates a block diagram of an exemplary modular stylus 200 that can be used with a touch sensitive device, such as a mobile phone (iPhone), touchpad (iPad), portable computer (MacBook), or the like.
Apple notes that the base module that is noted in patent FIG. 2 could be selectively coupled to an expansion module having the desired components and functionality for a given application. For example, the base module could be coupled to an expansion module having a laser pointer when the modular stylus is being used in a presentation.
In respect to patent FIG. 3 noted above, Apple interestingly notes that that the ring, shown as patent point #305, could serve other purposes such as providing an alternative means for transmitting the stylus stimulation signal from the stylus to the touch sensitive device by serving as an antenna for a wireless module (e.g., RFID, Bluetooth, WI-FI, or the like).
The Projection Feature
In the embodiment shown in patent FIG. 4 above, the tip of the stylus (#407) could include a transparent lens and tip assembly having a suitable conductive coating. The base module (#401) could also include projection circuitry (#402) operable to project an image through tip.
The lens assembly of the stylus tip could be operable to expand the beam from projection circuitry to project it onto a surface. The projection circuitry could include a projector or other suitable imaging device and suitable processing hardware or firmware to compensate for distortion incurred from projection circuitry to the projection surface.
In some examples, the projection circuitry could include a camera to image the projection surface for position detection by correlation (e.g., a technique similar to that used by optical mice) and/or to image an object (e.g., to provide scanner and/or camera functions).
Apple's patent FIG. 5 noted below presents us with a block diagram of one exemplary expansion module # 509 for providing a laser pointer functionality that could be used as an expansion module of modular stylus.
The expansion module could include a connector #516 for connecting expansion module to a base module which could include a connection interface. For example, the connector could include a threaded screw-type connector, plug-in connector, or the like. In some examples, the connector could include an interface (e.g., USB, SPI, I2C, RS232, and the like) that allows for the transfer of data and/or power between expansion module 509 and an attached base module.
Apple notes that the projection circuitry could include a light-source (e.g., laser, LED, digital light processing (DLP) projector, LCD projector, or the like), liquid crystal module (LCM) to modulate the light according to image data.
The Laser Pointer Feature
For this feature, Apple states that the expansion module could further include a laser pointer #519 of patent FIG. 5 for emitting a low-powered beam of visible light. In some examples, the laser pointer could include a colored laser diode having any desired color. However, any known laser technology could be used.
Apple further notes that the expansion module could further include a push-button, switch, or other input device to allow the user to selectively control the laser pointer.
In some examples, the expansion module could be attached to the base module when the modular stylus is to be used for a presentation. Providing the modular stylus with a laser pointer advantageously allows a user to enter inputs into a touch sensitive device, such as a tablet computer or touchpad, and point to an image being displayed overhead using the same device.
In the image shown on the left side of FIG. 13, the tip of the modular stylus is placed on a surface and begins moving right. The motion of the stylus could be detected by a gyro/accelerometer unit and transmitted to the projection circuitry. In response to receiving the detected motion, the projection circuitry could adjust the image displayed by the projector of the projection circuitry such that the projection remains at least substantially in place relative to surface.
According to Apple, the advanced stylus will make it easy to edit documents and/or images that are stored in the device of the projection circuitry. Apple further notes that the projection could be scaled to adjust for the change in height relative to a surface, such as a table. For example, the projection could be scaled smaller as the modular stylus is raised from the surface to compensate for the increased distance between the projector of projection circuitry and the surface.
Apple's patent FIG. 11 shown below illustrates the operation of an exemplary modular stylus having a projector in the base module.
Apple further states that the projection could be scaled larger as the modular stylus is lowered towards a surface to compensate for the decreased distance between the projector of the projection circuitry and a surface. The relative position of the modular stylus could also be determined using an imager, which could be added to the projection circuitry to image a surface and determine relative movement through correlation techniques, such as those used in optical engines for optical mice.
Expansion Modules: The Camera Feature
In Apple's patent FIG. 6 noted below we're able to see an expansion module for providing camera functionality. The unit could be used to take or store pictures. The wireless communication circuitry associated with the module could be used to transmit image data from the camera to a remote computing device, such as a desktop, laptop, tablet, or the like via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G cellular technologies.
The Audio Recording Feature
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted above illustrates a block diagram of another exemplary expansion module #709 for providing audio recording functionality. The Audio recorder could further include a speaker for playing back the recorded audio data. Additionally, the expansion module could further include one or more push buttons, switches, or other input devices to allow the user to do one or more of record, stop, play, fast forward, and rewind. As with camera module, users will be able to transmit the recorded audio data to a remote computing device be it an iMac, MacBook, iPad or the like.
Apple notes that attaching the expansion module 709 to base module will advantageously allow a user to make audio recordings of a meeting or oral notes and then enter them into a touch sensitive device, such as a tablet computer, using the same device.
The Gyro/Accelerometer Feature
Apple's patent FIG. 9 noted above illustrates that this module could combine a laser pointer feature (as we earlier covered) with a gyro/accelerometer which could be used to supplement the position data of the stylus tip determined by the touch sensitive device. For example, in a drawing application, the tilt of the stylus can be used to adjust the shape and thickness of lines made by the stylus to more closely mimic that of an actual pen or paintbrush.
Stylus In-Air Gestures
Apple notes in their patent filing that the gyro/accelerometer could also be used to detect motion in the form of stylus based air gestures. For example, a sweeping motion of the stylus would be able to be detected by the gyro/accelerometer and transmitted to a remote touch sensitive device. The in-air gestures made with the use of the stylus would be acknowledged as an input that could, for example, translate to a command of turning a page of a manual or book or to transition one presentation slide to the next. Apple also notes that in-air gestures could also act as a mouse replacement in certain instances.
Apple notes that power could be transferred from a power source to an attached base module via the connector. In some examples, the power source could include non- rechargeable batteries, such as alkaline, zinc-carbon, and the like, inserted into the body of expansion module.
Apple interestingly notes that the modular stylus in patent FIG. 14 can establish a data connection (e.g., USB) through the tip of base module having a first and a second segment with connections to USB D+ and USB D-.
In other examples, the power source could include a removable or non-removable rechargeable battery that can be charged wirelessly. In these examples, the power source could include a coil coupled to the rechargeable battery to allow the battery to be inductively charged by an external charger.
In fact, a future iPen may work with Apple future wireless charging system that's based on Near Field Magnetic Resonance.
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