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Apple Intensifies their Work on Force Touch Sensors for Future iDevice Applications and Beyond


Apple has been working on force sensors for touch displays, a future version of the Magic Mouse right through to the Apple Watch for some time now. Since this feature will debut with Apple Watch in April, force sensors could be on track to move to other devices over time including the Magic Mouse, the iPad and iPhone. In fact a rumor recently surfaced about this feature being aimed for next-gen iPhones. Today, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple which actually combines more than 24 patents into a single patent application. One of the key aspects of the invention relates to devices that could detect a first portion of a gesture on a touch-sensitive surface, including detecting intensity of a respective contact of the gesture. Our report provides you with only a brief overview of this aspect of Apple's invention.


The following are Key Points from Apple's Invention relating to touch displays that could provide unique feedback to users based on the intensity of their touch on a touch-display or Trackpad.


Apple notes that there's a need for electronic devices to provide faster, more efficient methods and interfaces for providing visual feedback for operations performed on an electronic device with a touch-sensitive surface (e.g., a trackpad or touch screen). More specifically, there is a need for providing a preview of a new state in response to an initial portion of a gesture (e.g., a press input), and determining whether to return to a previous state or to enter the new state at the end of the gesture.


Methods and interfaces described in Apple's invention address such needs and provide various visual feedback based on an intensity of a contact used to perform the gesture. Such methods and interfaces may complement or replace conventional methods for responding to a gesture. Such methods and interfaces provide helpful information to the user, reduce the cognitive burden on a user, and produce a more efficient human-machine interface


Apple's invention is designed to provide a user with a continuous response to the force or pressure of a user's contact, which provides a user with visual and/or haptic feedback that is richer and more intuitive. More specifically, such continuous force responses give the user the experience of being able to press lightly to preview an operation and/or press deeply to push "past" or "through" a predefined user interface state corresponding to the operation.


Apple further notes that as used in the specification and claims, the term "intensity" of a contact on a touch-sensitive surface refers to the force or pressure (force per unit area) of a contact (e.g., a finger contact) on the touch sensitive surface, or to a substitute (proxy) for the force or pressure of a contact on the touch sensitive surface.


The intensity of a contact has a range of values that includes at least four distinct values and more typically includes hundreds of distinct values (e.g., at least 256). Intensity of a contact is, optionally, determined (or measured) using various approaches and various sensors or combinations of sensors.


For example, one or more force sensors underneath or adjacent to the touch-sensitive surface are, optionally, used to measure force at various points on the touch-sensitive surface. In some implementations, force measurements from multiple force sensors are combined (e.g., a weighted average) to determine an estimated force of a contact.


Similarly, a pressure-sensitive tip of a stylus is, optionally, used to determine a pressure of the stylus on the touch-sensitive surface. Apple covered this briefly in their 2014 stylus patent.


Apple's patent FIG. 1A noted below shows us a contact intensity sensor coupled to intensity sensor controller #159 in I/O subsystem #106. The contact intensity sensor #165 optionally includes one or more piezo resistive strain gauges, capacitive force sensors, electric force sensors, piezoelectric force sensors, optical force sensors, capacitive touch-sensitive surfaces, or other intensity sensors (e.g., sensors used to measure the force (or pressure) of a contact on a touch-sensitive surface).


2AF - fig. 1a force intensity sensors

As shown in FIG. 7 below, the electronic device #14000 includes a display unit #14002 configured to display a plurality of user interface objects in a graphical user interface, a touch-sensitive surface unit #14004 configured to receive user contacts, one or more sensor units #14006 configured to detect intensity of the user contacts with the touch-sensitive surface unit and a tactile output unit #14007; and a processing unit #14008 coupled to the display unit, the touch-sensitive surface unit and the one or more sensor units #14006.


3AF 552  force detection fig. 7

Patent Credits


Apple credits Jeffrey Bernstein, Julian Missig, Avie Cieplinski, Matthew Brown, May Khoe, Nicholas Zambetti, Bianca Costanzo, David Hart and Michael Victor as the inventors of patent application # which was originally filed in Q 2012. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.


Apple has at least a hundred patent figures to help you visualize how some of the invention could work. For the curious ones amongst us, you could drill deeper into this invention by checking out Apple's latest patent application here.


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