In July we learned more detail about Force Touch for the iPhone in an Apple Patent application. Earlier in May we discovered a few more details about Force Touch as it applied to an iPad using a stylus as a paint brush. Today, a new technical patent application from Apple has surfaced in Europe regarding Force Touch on an iPad employing sheet sensors and a capacitive array.
Apple's Invention Relates to Force Touch on an iPad & Beyond
Apple's invention generally relates to systems and methods sensing the force of a touch, and in particular to a capacitive force sensor integrated with a device for detecting and measuring the amount or magnitude of a touch applied to a surface of the device.
Apple notes that it might be advantageous for a user to move a computer-generated object on the display using a relatively light touch and then, alternatively, select or invoke a command with respect to the same computer using a relatively heavy or sharper touch. More generally, it might be advantageous for the user to be able to provide input in multiple ways depending on the force of the touch.
This type of input may be useful for controlling a game, for example, a gas pedal on a simulated car or braking, signaling, and turning. It could also better control flight simulator based games as well as others.
It may be further advantageous for the user to be able to provide input, such as simulated body movements or otherwise, in a virtual reality (VR) simulation (possibly with haptic feedback), or in an augmented reality program.
It might be further advantageous to use the force of a touch to interpret the relative degree (e.g., force) and locations of multiple touches that are provided to multiple user interface objects or elements that are in use on a touch device at the same time. For example, the force of a touch could be used to interpret multiple touches due to a user pressing more than one element in an application for playing a musical instrument.
Apple's invention provides techniques, which can be used to measure or determine the amount or magnitude of force applied, and changes in the amount or magnitude of force applied, by a user contacting a touch device (such as a touch-sensitive surface, one example of which is a touch display), or other pressure-sensitive input elements (such as a virtual analog control or keyboard), or other input device.
These techniques can be incorporated into various devices using touch recognition, touch elements of a GUI, and touch input or manipulation in an application program, such as touch devices, touch pads, and touch screens. This application also provides systems and techniques that can be used to measure or determine the amount or magnitude of force applied, and changes in the amount or magnitude of force applied, by the user when contacting a touch device.
A sample force sensor may include an upper portion and a lower portion separated by a compressible element or by an air gap. The compressible element is typically formed form a compliant or springy material. In some cases, the compressible element is referred to as a "deformable middle body," an intermediate element, or a "compressible layer." In some cases, the force sensor includes other force-sensing elements, such as a resistive strain gauge, piezoelectric element, and the like.
In some cases, the force-sensing structure is separated from the display by a compliant layer comprised of compressible foam. The force sensing structure may be separated from the display by a compliant layer comprised of an array of compliant pillars and an optically transparent fluid.
Apple's patent FIG. 10 is just one example of an architecture for a Force Touch system.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted below depicts the touch device as viewed from above and includes the touch device case #605, the cover glass element #610, and the outer edge 615. The touch device also includes a home button #705 configuration that is different. Such a configuration may or may not be a part of the device/iPad. Figure 7 also illustrates a touch-sensitive region #710 (in which the touch device can determine a location of one or more touches using, for example, a capacitive touch sensor). The home button 705 may be partially or fully within the touch-sensitive region, or may be located outside the touch-sensitive region.
In Apple's FIG. 2B we're able to see a depiction of an alternate cross-sectional view. As shown in FIG. 2B, the device includes an alternative force-sensing structure 200b where we see multiple force-sensing structures that may be placed at different locations along the perimeter of the bezel 106. In this example, a force-sensing structure is placed at or near each edge of the bezel #106 of the electronic device. Additionally, a force-sensing structure 200c is placed at each of the corners of the bezel. Thus, in the example device shown in FIG. 2B, there are eight force-sensing structures (200b, 200c).
Apple's FIG. 6 depicts another alternative embodiment of a device having a capacitive force sensor. The touch device case #605 can include a backing (not shown) or a mid-frame element (not shown), which can stabilize the touch device case against bending, warping, or other physical distortion.
The cover glass element #610 may include a transparent touch sensor that is configured to detect the location of one or more touches. As mentioned previously, the transparent touch sensor may be formed from one or more arrays of transparent conductive lines coupled to touch sensor circuitry. Types of transparent touch sensors that may be integrated into the cover glass element include, without limitation, mutual capacitive sensors, self-capacitive touch sensors, and resistive touch sensors.
Apple also notes that the compressible layer #655 noted in FIG. 7 can include a microstructure constructed at least in part from silicone, such as a set of silicone pyramids or a set of silicone springs, also with the effect that the first flex circuit #640 and the second flex circuit #650 are held apart by a spring force and do not generally touch.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted below simply presents a "tablet" related to this invention. This isn't a design patent, so don't get overly hung up on the design itself. That being said, Apple doesn't identify one corner that could simply represent the top shell of a tablet or a place to hold a stylus. The patent does mention a stylus in context with this force technology.
Apple's international patent was filed today in Europe. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time. Apple's invention, while focusing on a tablet, notes that it can relate to any mobile or wearable device.
Just a note: The USPTO has yet to publish today's patent applications. During the summer this is a common occurrence. As soon as they're published we'll review them immediately.
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