Believe it not, Apple's engineers actually began working on Force Touch sensors for future iDevices way back in 2006 in relation to force sensors for the iPad bezel and display. Since that time there have other force touch inventions that have been published relating to the Apple Watch and MacBook. The latest buzz is that Apple's next iPhone is likely to introduce the Force Touch feature and today a related force touch invention for the iPhone and other iDevices surfaced in Europe. If Apple launches this feature in September, then this will be another patent fulfilled.
Apple's Patent Background
In some cases, it may be advantageous to detect and measure the force of a touch that is applied to a surface to provide non-binary touch input. However, there may be several challenges associated with implementing a force sensor in an electronic device. For example, temperature fluctuations in the device or environment may introduce an unacceptable amount of variability in the force measurements. Additionally, if the force sensor is incorporated with a display or transparent medium, it may be challenging to achieve both sensing performance and optical performance in a compact form factor.
Apple's Invention Relates to Force Touch for the iPhone
Apple's invention generally relates to force sensing and, more particularly, to a temperature compensating force sensor having two or more transparent force-sensitive components separated by a compliant layer.
Apple's invention may take the form of an optically transparent force sensor, which may be used as input to an electronic device. The optically transparent force sensor may be configured to compensate for variations in temperature using two or more force-sensitive layers that are disposed on opposite sides of a compliant layer. In some embodiments, anisotropic piezoelectric materials are used to compensate for variations in temperature.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrated below depicts an example electronic device; FIG. 2A depicts a top view of an example force-sensitive structure including a grid of optically transparent force-sensitive components; FIG. 2B depicts a top detailed view of an optically transparent serpentine force-sensitive component which may be used in the example force-sensitive structure depicted in FIG. 2A; FIG. 2C depicts a side view of a portion of an example force-sensitive structure of a device taken along section A-A of FIG. 1
Apple's patent FIGS. 6A - 6C illustrated below depict a top detailed view of various optically transparent serpentine geometries for a force-sensitive component which may be used in the example force-sensitive structure depicted in FIG. 2A above. For example, the force-sensing component 612 may include at least two electrodes 612a, 612b for connecting to a sensing circuit or, in other cases, the force-sensing component #212 may be electrically connected to sense circuitry without the use of electrodes. For example, the force-sensing component may be connected to the sense circuitry using conductive traces that are formed as part of the component layer.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted below depicts a top view of an example force-sensitive structure including a grid of optically transparent force-sensitive components having traces that are oriented in a variety of directions to detect strain along respective directions. For example, force-sensitive component 712a may have traces that are oriented to detect strain along a 45 degree angle, whereas force-sensitive component 712b may have traces that are oriented to detect strain along a 45 degree angle. In another example, force-sensitive component 712c may be adapted to detect along an arbitrary angle between O and 45 degrees.
As shown in FIG. 7, the array of force-sensitive components may include a subset of corner force-sensitive components 712a, 712b positioned at corners of the array or grid. In some cases, the corner force-sensitive components 712a, 712b are formed from traces that are oriented along a diagonal direction.
Apple's patent FIG. 11 noted above is an additional process flow diagram illustrating example steps of a process 1100 for operating a temperature-compensating force sensor.
Apple notes that their invention relates to a wide variety of possible future devices including the iPhone, iPad, a computer display, a notebook computing device, a desktop computing device, a computing input device (such as a touch pad, keyboard, or mouse), a wearable device, a health monitor device, a sports accessory device, and so on.
Apple's invention was published and found in Europe today. Apple's international filing was originally made in January 2015. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time – though rumors point to this invention being fulfilled with the new iPhones debuting this September.
Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. About Making Comments on our Site: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit any comments. Comments are reviewed daily from 5am to 6pm MST and sporadically over the weekend.