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Apple's new trackpad patent replaces 'click button' with force sensors, adds tactile feedback

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday issued Apple a patent for a touch pad that removes the traditional "clickable" integrated button, replacing it with four or more force sensors and an actuator to provide tactile feedback.

Force
Source: USPTO


According to Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,633,916 for a "Touch pad with force sensors and actuator feedback," the operation of a trackpad with an integrated switch-type button can be mimicked and improved upon with force sensors. Press and release operations, for example, can be easily discerned with the proposed method.

Apple's MacBooks currently feature an integrated button, or "all-in-one," design. In this layout, a user initiates a button press by pushing down on the trackpad's surface, at which time a hinged mechanism located at the rear edge of the touch pad allows movement of the front end. The front edge is coupled to a switch that produces a clicking sound when actuated.

There are a few issues with the existing design, including the increasing pressure required to activate the switch when a user's finger moves further toward the hinged edge. The physics of integrated button layouts, Apple notes, may degrade user experience in terms of touch pad sensitivity and operation.

Force


The patent instead offers a solution that incorporates at least four force sensors deployed at the four corners of a trackpad. In some cases, the sensors may be piezoelectric materials manufactured from polymer-metal composites or polymers filled with nanoparticles, which generate voltage proportional to the amount of compression. Alternatively, output may be measured in changes to inductance, magnetism or other force-dependent properties.

As for the touch-sensing surface, multiple methods are mentioned, including surface acoustic wave and light detection technology. For the purposes of illustration, the invention focuses on capacitive touch sensors as currently used in the MacBook lineup.

By using force sensors, the mechanism can be used to perform button-type operations without the drawbacks of an integrated button design. For example, a touch pad using force sensors does not necessarily need to pivot in any one direction. In some cases, the touch pad may not even need to move as an attached actuator can provide tactile feedback through vibrations.

Force


Further, force pads save room in a MacBook's cramped chassis, allowing designers to utilize space normally reserved for the trackpad's pivoting motion. As noted in the patent, a normal piezoelectric force sensor may be displaced less than 0.05mm under the most forceful of button presses.

Apple takes into consideration user experience for those accustomed to feeling a trackpad flex or move when in operation. An actuator can be attached to the touch pad and programmed to relay a force to the surface that mimics a button press. This force feedback, or haptic feedback, may be extended to include a clicking sound, which in some embodiments can be reproduced by system speakers instead of the actuator.

Using force sensors also has operational benefits over traditional systems. For example, the combination of force sensor and capacitive input can be used to facilitate easy one-handed drag-to-select functions. Since there are at least four sensors disposed on the pad's four corners, each can be mapped to a particular software operation. In addition, the sensors allow for granular levels of pressure measurements and thus control.

Further, input or force application events measured by the sensors can be averaged to better determine what a user intends with a given press. The design is much more intuitive than the "on/off" capabilities of a traditional integrated button.

Force
Examples of actuator coupling.


Finally, the force feedback capabilities of Apple's patented touch pad rely on one or more actuators that can vibrate or otherwise apply force to the mechanism. This tactile feedback can be induced by interaction with the touch pad itself, or through software triggers. An example would be feedback when an email is received.
The remainder of the document describes configuration of the mechanism as well as alternative implementations in mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad.

Apple's force sensor trackpad patent was first filed for in 2009 and credits Jeffrey Traer Bernstein, Avi Cieplinski, Brett W. Degner, Duncan Kerr, Patrick Kessler, Paul Puskarich, Marcelo H. Coelho and Aleksandar Pance as its inventors.
post #2 of 34

That is a great innovation that Apple may introduce in the near future.

post #3 of 34
I just hope it doesn't mess up the accuracy of the trackpads. Apple still have the best trackpad experiences on the market, the worst thing they can do is to degrade it slightly just to provide something thinner.
post #4 of 34

Another Step ahead of the competition.  

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27" iMac, i7 2.8G CPU, 16 GB, 2TB Hd, Radeon HD 4850,  MacBookPro 13",  iPad2 64Gb, 2 x  iPhone4S 32Gb, 1 x 64Gb iPhone5S, 1Tb TimeCap,  2 x Apple TV.   Got my AAPL when they were $12.50 each.
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post #5 of 34

As of right now, I'm just hoping they upgrade the firmware for the Magic Trackpad. It's nowhere near as good under Mavericks. 

 

Next up: switch the Magic Trackpad to Bluetooth 4.0. There's no reason the batteries shouldn't last at least 1-2 months under normal use. I'm lucky to see 2 weeks on average. 

post #6 of 34
Similar functionality has been around for a while.  My two year old laptop has it.  The problem for me is it is more hindrance than help.  The way I type my palms are always tapping the edge of the pad- so I disabled the feature.  Hopefully this is one of those things that Apple figures out 'how to do right' as opposed to just 'how to do.'    "You're typing wrong" isn't the working answer for me =p
post #7 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frood View Post


'Similar functionality....'
What? Where? On what machine?
post #8 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedGeminiPA View Post
 

As of right now, I'm just hoping they upgrade the firmware for the Magic Trackpad. It's nowhere near as good under Mavericks. 

 

Next up: switch the Magic Trackpad to Bluetooth 4.0. There's no reason the batteries shouldn't last at least 1-2 months under normal use. I'm lucky to see 2 weeks on average. 

Mine lasts at least 2 months on continuous use.

 

I also have not noticed any Trackpad issues under Mavericks.

post #9 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by MikhailT View Post

I just hope it doesn't mess up the accuracy of the trackpads. Apple still have the best trackpad experiences on the market, the worst thing they can do is to degrade it slightly just to provide something thinner.

Indeed they do. It's a mystery to me that it took others so long to figure out how to *copy* this all important feature. Even the idea of a large touchpad took a long time to stick on Windows PCs. For the longest time, Dell laptops featured a touchpad with < 1/3 the surface area of that found on MacBooks.

post #10 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by StruckPaper View Post
 

Mine lasts at least 2 months on continuous use.

 

I also have not noticed any Trackpad issues under Mavericks.

The biggest issue I have is scrolling in Launchpad. My MacBook Pro's trackpad is buttery smooth. However, when I use the Magic Trackpad, the scrolling is horrid, maybe only swiping half a section per swipe. I know it's not an issue with my MBP, since I had the same issue when I still had my late 2012 Mac mini. 

post #11 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedGeminiPA View Post
 

As of right now, I'm just hoping they upgrade the firmware for the Magic Trackpad. It's nowhere near as good under Mavericks. 

 

Next up: switch the Magic Trackpad to Bluetooth 4.0. There's no reason the batteries shouldn't last at least 1-2 months under normal use. I'm lucky to see 2 weeks on average. 

Yours is defective. I've had a magic trackpad since it launched, and under Mavericks, it lasts 2-3 months.

post #12 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frood View Post
 

Your laptop has nothing of what Apple is innovating. Let's get that straight. That's not Apple-fanboy talk, that's pointing out an obvious oversimplification of this patent vs. the half baked crap that's in your two hundred dollar plastic POS.

post #13 of 34

I think I have very sensitive fingers. I definitely prefer my ancient white MacBook's trackpad to the one on my modern MacBook Pro. Part of the reason is my fingers get sore pushing down the trackpad to click the button; I can easily tell that it takes more force at the top of the pad than at the bottom.

 

Force gauges would allow the click-pressure to be tunable, too. I could see that being a welcome customization.

 

- Jasen.

post #14 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by jasenj1 View Post
 

I think I have very sensitive fingers. I definitely prefer my ancient white MacBook's trackpad to the one on my modern MacBook Pro. Part of the reason is my fingers get sore pushing down the trackpad to click the button; I can easily tell that it takes more force at the top of the pad than at the bottom.

 

Force gauges would allow the click-pressure to be tunable, too. I could see that being a welcome customization.

 

- Jasen.

 

So why have you not enabled tap to click? Then you never have to click the physical button.

post #15 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedGeminiPA View Post
 

The biggest issue I have is scrolling in Launchpad. My MacBook Pro's trackpad is buttery smooth. However, when I use the Magic Trackpad, the scrolling is horrid, maybe only swiping half a section per swipe. I know it's not an issue with my MBP, since I had the same issue when I still had my late 2012 Mac mini. 

OK. I miss the fact that your issues are with the Magic trackpad.

post #16 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedGeminiPA View Post

The biggest issue I have is scrolling in Launchpad. My MacBook Pro's trackpad is buttery smooth. However, when I use the Magic Trackpad, the scrolling is horrid, maybe only swiping half a section per swipe. I know it's not an issue with my MBP, since I had the same issue when I still had my late 2012 Mac mini. 

Genius Bar.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

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post #17 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frac View Post

'Similar functionality....'
What? Where? On what machine?

You have to remember that when Windows/Android users see an Apple patent, there's a little insecurity buzzer that goes off with such phrases as 'someone else did it first', 'this isn't innovative', 'obvious', 'LG Prada, LG Prada', 'hey, that's just a rectangle'. Apple has of course mentioned other examples of such technology being used in the patent itself and they have earlier patents about haptics such as:

http://www.patentstorm.us/applications/20120068957/claims.html

The following example Apple mentions looks quite cool:

http://www.tactiva.com/demo.html

The Steam controller uses haptic feedback too on their touchpads and testers said it feels like pressing a button. Blackberry used it too:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx78A8_5Rhk#t=492

This can work with the iPhone home button or for typing on the screen. They can even use it to replace laptop keyboards if it's done properly - even to the extent that a keyboard can be replaced visually with piano keys. The trackpad is a good place to start and it might even be better applying it to the Magic Trackpad first to see how people get on with it. They test these things out themselves anyway though - they are heavy users of Macbook Pros so if it wasn't right, the staff at Apple would have something to say.
post #18 of 34
I see this a bound for iPhone & iPad instead up the laptops and trackpads (though they might get it, too) But I think Apple has wanted this kind of pressure sensitivity for the iDevices for awhile now.
post #19 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

You have to remember that when Windows/Android users see an Apple patent, there's a little insecurity buzzer that goes off with such phrases as 'someone else did it first', 'this isn't innovative', 'obvious', 'LG Prada, LG Prada', 'hey, that's just a rectangle'. Apple has of course mentioned other examples of such technology being used in the patent itself and they have earlier patents about haptics such as:

...

Yes. That is a good way to put it. It's an expression of insecurity that barely hides contempt for Apple. There was some YouTube video called "has Apple ever really invented anything?" Which perpetuates the meme that Apple is just a marketing company (something that many Microsofties believe deep down inside), and that "real tech" is not-Apple. This is the prevailing attitude among geeks in general, although many like Apple conditionally ("when they're innovating" = reinventing), and chide Apple "for becoming stale". Yet they "hope Apple starts innovating again soon" because--and this part is unspoken--their competitors are fresh out of ideas and the entire industry needs shaking up again. I think what they really want is for Apple to come up with the right idea then wait for cheaper Android copies.

I'm really OK with all of that. But I don't think half of these people have any self-awareness, choosing to call their biases "objective" and "logical."

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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post #20 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post


Yes. That is a good way to put it. It's an expression of insecurity that barely hides contempt for Apple. There was some YouTube video called "has Apple ever really invented anything?" Which perpetuates the meme that Apple is just a marketing company (something that many Microsofties believe deep down inside), and that "real tech" is not-Apple. This is the prevailing attitude among geeks in general, although many like Apple conditionally ("when they're innovating" = reinventing), and chide Apple "for becoming stale". Yet they "hope Apple starts innovating again soon" because--and this part is unspoken--their competitors are fresh out of ideas and the entire industry needs shaking up again. I think what they really want is for Apple to come up with the right idea then wait for cheaper Android copies.

I'm really OK with all of that. But I don't think half of these people have any self-awareness, choosing to call their biases "objective" and "logical."

You can interchange Apple with Android/Windows users and vice versa and your statement would be just as true.

post #21 of 34

Never mind.

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post #22 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by blurpbleepbloop View Post

I see this a bound for iPhone & iPad instead up the laptops and trackpads (though they might get it, too) But I think Apple has wanted this kind of pressure sensitivity for the iDevices for awhile now.

 

It would have to be a substantially different implementation to work with touchscreens.  The screen assembly does not possess the rigidity required for discrete force sensor measurements.

post #23 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mistercow View Post

You can interchange Apple with Android/Windows users and vice versa and your statement would be just as true.

Even assuming this is true (and it's not), there's at least one subtle difference. Apple users are on Apple forums. You, a Windows user, are on an Apple forum telling Apple users that everyone behaves the same, invalidating your own comment. To validate it, you'd have to run along to a nice Windows forum and tell all the nice Windows users how Microsoft's latest development is so awesome.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton 
they "hope Apple starts innovating again soon" because--and this part is unspoken--their competitors are fresh out of ideas and the entire industry needs shaking up again. I think what they really want is for Apple to come up with the right idea then wait for cheaper Android copies.

It is weird how they never demand that Microsoft, Samsung and Google innovate more. They either have to be assuming that Microsoft, Samsung and Google are innovating enough or they aren't capable of it. If it was the former, it wouldn't really matter what Apple was doing, they'd all be happy and merry and not bitter at all.
post #24 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by mistercow View Post

You can interchange Apple with Android/Windows users and vice versa and your statement would be just as true.

I don't agree because one of the things Ive observed is that pro-Google forum members like to hold Apple to a higher standard of expectations than they hold any other company--Microsoft and Google in particular, but the same goes for any competitor (Samsung, Qualcomm, etc). Apple is "doomed" because they failed to blow away the competition with some kind of earth-shattering new product or as Tim Cook puts it, "introduce a new product category." Steve Jobs, in his manner of counting, considers Apple to have only done the "revolutionary new product" 4 times (successfully) in the last 35 years. I don't know why the meme out in the tech world is that "Apple is stale" because they haven't done anything revolutionary since the 2010 iPad intro. There's no regular schedule for these things. That'd be like saying, "Gee, Stephen Hawking is getting stale because he hasn't revolutionized physics since 1974!" That's not how this works, and there is no such expectation placed on Microsoft, Samsung, or Google's shoulders.

"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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"Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone."

John C. Dvorak, 2007
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post #25 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedGeminiPA View Post

 

Next up: switch the Magic Trackpad to Bluetooth 4.0. There's no reason the batteries shouldn't last at least 1-2 months under normal use. I'm lucky to see 2 weeks on average. 

 

Do you use rechargeable batteries? You'll get wayyy more time out of those than standard alkaline (not talking about recharging/reuse — each charge)

post #26 of 34
Not interested in this one.
post #27 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedGeminiPA View Post
 

The biggest issue I have is scrolling in Launchpad. My MacBook Pro's trackpad is buttery smooth. However, when I use the Magic Trackpad, the scrolling is horrid, maybe only swiping half a section per swipe. I know it's not an issue with my MBP, since I had the same issue when I still had my late 2012 Mac mini. 

Must be defective.  I use the Magic Trackpad with my iMac and MacBook Pro (when hooked to an external monitor) on Mavericks and it works flawlessly and the battery lasts in the 3 month range (usually use Duracell Advanced). Just checked and I have no issue in LaunchPad either (I actually like and use Launchpad for certain apps).  Given the skipping and terrible batter life you are having, it really seems like you have a defective unit.

post #28 of 34

Personally, I would miss the feedback provided from an actual *click*.  But, i'd have to try it out to see how i'd really feel about it.  I just don't see what's the big deal about eliminating the click feature.  Just to save a millimeter or two in the thickness?  Yes i know, it's a moving part and those can fail, but i've had issues with taping and scrolling (not enough to justify a Genius Bar appointment, but consistent enough).  It will sense my lightest tap, but sometimes scrolling will just cancel all of a sudden.  could be from an accidental tap with another finger.  That's about as much as I can decipher.  Anyway, Click/drag, click/hold.  I would miss that.  Surely Apple has already thought of this.

post #29 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by antkm1 View Post

Personally, I would miss the feedback provided from an actual *click*.

The current trackpad has the problem that it doesn't click at all if you press the top 1/5th of the pad because that's where it's hinged. This new trackpad should allow the click from anywhere.

Force feedback is a sensation that the trackpad is repelling your finger and the harder you press, the stronger the repulsion pushing against your nerve endings:

http://gizmodo.com/5962754/when-you-sit-down-does-your-ass-actually-touch-the-chair



So given that it's just a nerve sensation, they would try to figure out a way to replicate that. Other hardware manufacturers have done this using vibration and users have said that it feels exactly like pressing a button - they'd change the vibration depending on how hard the press is to replicate the degree of repulsion. To measure it, they can build a simulation finger with sensors to detect the pressure variation as it pushes against the trackpad and at the point it clicks and then try to replicate that measured effect with some sort of vibration. An audible click just needs a speaker to reproduce the sound.

They can do the same with the keyboard and just adjust the simulated repulsion.

An air hockey table creates a cushion of air to repel the object on the surface. I doubt that they could push out compressed air through tiny holes like that but it's an example of using something other than the solid object interaction to create a repulsion effect.
post #30 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


The current trackpad has the problem that it doesn't click at all if you press the top 1/5th of the pad because that's where it's hinged. This new trackpad should allow the click from anywhere.
 

my 3 year old  trackpad clicks anywhere you less it. No trouble at all. It's not hinged at the top, I can easily push the top edge down corner to corner.

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post #31 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by RogueDogRandy View Post

my 3 year old  trackpad clicks anywhere you less it. No trouble at all. It's not hinged at the top, I can easily push the top edge down corner to corner.

Maybe it loosens up over time but it's definitely hinged at the top, they patented the design:

http://appleinsider.com/articles/13/05/14/apple-wins-utility-patent-for-macbooks-trackpad-design

That was one of the reasons for the patent this article is about:

"There are a few issues with the existing design, including the increasing pressure required to activate the switch when a user's finger moves further toward the hinged edge."
post #32 of 34

ok then.  I can push down and click with ease anywhere - I honestly can't tell the difference.

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post #33 of 34
To me
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

The current trackpad has the problem that it doesn't click at all if you press the top 1/5th of the pad because that's where it's hinged. This new trackpad should allow the click from anywhere.

Force feedback is a sensation that the trackpad is repelling your finger and the harder you press, the stronger the repulsion pushing against your nerve endings:

http://gizmodo.com/5962754/when-you-sit-down-does-your-ass-actually-touch-the-chair



So given that it's just a nerve sensation, they would try to figure out a way to replicate that. Other hardware manufacturers have done this using vibration and users have said that it feels exactly like pressing a button - they'd change the vibration depending on how hard the press is to replicate the degree of repulsion. To measure it, they can build a simulation finger with sensors to detect the pressure variation as it pushes against the trackpad and at the point it clicks and then try to replicate that measured effect with some sort of vibration. An audible click just needs a speaker to reproduce the sound.

They can do the same with the keyboard and just adjust the simulated repulsion.

An air hockey table creates a cushion of air to repel the object on the surface. I doubt that they could push out compressed air through tiny holes like that but it's an example of using something other than the solid object interaction to create a repulsion effect.
, this sounds like a complex solution to something that's really not that big of a deal to most. Sure the clickable surface area is reduced, but after a short while, I hardly realize the issue. I use click/hold and click/drag with two hands so it's really a neglagable experience to me. I can see there is a problem with the single hinge click. But I've used vibration click displays on smartphones and it's just not as obvious and discernible. And there seems (by this article) that there is no other technical reason for this to be implemented other than just "improving" the trackpad. So why bother. Most people don't notice or care about the short-comings of, what is already, the best trackpad experience out there.
post #34 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by antkm1 View Post

I've used vibration click displays on smartphones and it's just not as obvious and discernible.

They wouldn't make one like that unless they could make it better. People who are happy with tap-to-click wouldn't mind it as they don't use the physical click anyway. The patent describes mounting the pad on 4 pressure sensors at the corners instead of the hinge. This not only evens the pressure over the pad but it makes it analog rather than digital and still allows physical movement. So they could do things that use pressure sensitivity.
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