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Apple developing "mechanical overlay" touch interface

post #1 of 58
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Inside its Cupertino, Calif.-based design labs, Apple Computer has been developing a multipurpose touch interface, similar to a track pad, on top of which users could place several alternative types of hot-swappable mechanical control interfaces, a recent patent filing has revealed.

The May 12, 2005 filing, published for the first time by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday, describes "mechanical overlays," which may include one or more "mechanical actuators" that provide touch inputs to a touch sensing pad.

In layman's terms, a "mechanical overlay" can be an audio equalizer, musical keyboard, or video game controller, with the "mechanical actuators" representing individual components of the overlay, such as buttons, keys, sliders, dials, wheels, switches, or joysticks.

Apple said in the filing that the underlying touch sensing device could be a touch pad that is built into a computing device such as a laptop computer or one affixed to a handheld PDA or digital media player. Similarly, the touch sensing device could also be a touch-screen built into a tablet PC or a standalone device such as a tablet-sized touch pad.

"The touch sensing input device is capable of sensing the mechanical inputs provided by the mechanical overlay and causing the host computing device to respond to those inputs," Apple said. "The inputs of the mechanical overlay may be assignable or they may be configured for a particular application of the host computing device."

In one example, the mechanical overlay could transform the touch sensing input device into a control console or panel with a particular set of fixed mechanical inputs associated with a particular application of the host computing device.

"A user can have several different mechanical overlays, each one with controls for a specific application," the company said. "For example, the user may have one mechanical overlay for video editing, another one for sound editing, another one for gaming, another one for data entry, another one for navigation, etc."



By way of Apple's invention, users would be able to "simply remove and insert a new mechanical overlay" depending on the their needs. "In essence, different overlays can be designed for different applications of the host computing system," the company said.

A mechanical overlay could be attached or held against the touch sensing input device in a variety of different ways. Some example adhesives listed in the filing include clips, pins, tabs, snaps, latches, screws, adhesive, velcro, magnets, static attraction, or suction cups.

"Other examples include grooves or slots located on the touch sensing input device or around the touch sensing input device for receiving the base and holding the mechanical overlay in position," Apple explained. "For example, the base may be slid underneath a bezel or snapped into a lip at the edge of the touch sensing input device."



In designing each individual overlay, the company said manufacturers would be able to choose from a variety of materials including both flexible and rigid substances. "By way of example, the base may be formed from plastics, metals and rubber like materials," it explained. "The material is typically selected so as to provide tight control over the placement of the mechanical actuators relative to the touch sensitive surface.

In the filing, Apple goes on to say that the touch sensing input device "may be based on sensing technologies including but not limited to capacitive sensing, resistive sensing, surface acoustic wave sensing, pressure sensing, optical sensing, and/or the like."

The touch sensing device could be based on either single point sensing or multipoint sensing, according to the filing. In the case of multipoint, the device would have the ability to sense multiple points of contact and report the multiple touches to the host computing device, for instance, allowing the user to adjust several sliders on an audio equalizer simultaneously.

The patent filing, simply title "mechanical overlay," is credited to Apple employee Brian Huppi of San Francisco, Calif.
post #2 of 58
However many times I've read this patent it still seizes to amaze me.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #3 of 58
This is not necessarily significant to any theorized future products. I can't see any advantages other than from a manufacturing standpoint.

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post #4 of 58
Reminds me of the old Pismo PowerBook's removable keyboard.
It would be cool to be able to pop out the keyboard and replace it with a control surface.
Or how about a keyboard specifically for FinalCut Pro or Photoshop editing.
post #5 of 58
this would be sooooo bloat vapor! not needed and ugly.
post #6 of 58
I personally like this idea much better than having overlays.

post #7 of 58
well guys I imagine the DJs would like this as a mixing board
post #8 of 58
My Intellivision controller did this, what? 30 years ago?

post #9 of 58
This would be awesome for those of us in the live electronic music world.

But..pointless for anyone else.
post #10 of 58
Sure, that was interesting and all, but without E.T. I just come off dissapointed...
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post #11 of 58
Fisher Price has this concept already:
http://www.fisher-price.com/us/interactv/intro.asp

And it's wireless...
post #12 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by psionic001

Fisher Price has this concept already:
http://www.fisher-price.com/us/interactv/intro.asp

And it's wireless...

They're more cutting edge than we ever knew!

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post #13 of 58
From the guy that brought you the rotary mouse.

post #14 of 58
One thing that was interesting was that they took out the wheel from what looked like an iPod and put in what looked like a phone keypad...
post #15 of 58
it's the iEverything
post #16 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrpiddly

I personally like this idea much better than having overlays.


thats pretty cool. i always do enjoy these mock ups. I kinda wish i had that rotary mouse to. i could so...dial on skype if skype had a rotary phone interface.
post #17 of 58
Many great inventions began with most people saying WTF would I do with that
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post #18 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shookster

One thing that was interesting was that they took out the wheel from what looked like an iPod and put in what looked like a phone keypad...

According to the illustration you have to remove the scrollwheel module from the iPod and then slide the entire iPod into a sleve containing the phone keypad. Not exactly the best design to come out of Apple. I like the idea of the all screen iPod that simply mimics the interface of choice on screen digitally. I like the idea of the keyboard module for the laptops but why have a touch sensitive panel underneath if you're going to have a mechanical one on top of it? Just sell custom mechanical keyboards that snap into place on their own.

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post #19 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Caribou Killa

thats pretty cool. i always do enjoy these mock ups. I kinda wish i had that rotary mouse to. i could so...dial on skype if skype had a rotary phone interface.

Feck that, this is what you want:





Apple patented that a few years ago.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #20 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider

Inside its Cupertino, Calif.-based design labs, Apple Computer has been developing a multipurpose touch interface,…

Unbelieveable potential. Significant cost reduction.

The idea of turning your MacBook Pro into a sophisticate midi controler, a digital oscilloscope, audio or video synthesizer, etc., just by changing a mechanical overlay is one thing.

For medical labs, it would phenomenal to be able to have redundant backup systems. Great for teaching purposes were most of the time lab time is restricted due to lack of sufficient instrumentation.

Seems like the future might be that you just buy a Mac OS XBrick Pro, with for example, a 10, 12, 15, or 17 inch screen and a bare, equally corresponding fully sized multipurpose touch interface. From there, you select your own keyboard configuration or other mechanical controller from Apple or other manufacturers, that with the appropriate software turns your machine from a standard laptop into a professional instrument.

On that premise, there is no doubt the the 'Brick' could be any size down to an iPod. So now Apple still controls the quality of the hardware and the OS, which is ideal if made available to third-party manufacturers. What could be done with it are only limited by our imaginations.

"Inside everything is a Mac!"
post #21 of 58
It looks like Apple is leaving no idea, unturned ... or unpatented. Yeah, I remember the Intellivision, it was cool, but the plastic wore out quickly.
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post #22 of 58
Why have the devices interface through the trackpad? Why not just a USB port like anything else? They can still sit on top of the computer.
post #23 of 58
Conceptually, this is much cooler than it appears to be. What Apple has done is much more than listed a few new(?) input devices, because:

1) They have actually identified the lowest common denominator for most super-popular gizmos today – a base unit for computers, cell phones, iPods, remote controls, game controllers, PSP:s etc. , and

2) They have shown that they can produce such base units (of different sizes and shapes), and leave the rest as cheap and customizable add-ons.

This is taking a mathematical mode of procedure and applying it to product development, and it's brilliant. Maybe there won't be any direct gizmo-spawning out of this, but surely there will be lots of indirect advancements in current product lines.
post #24 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland

Feck that, this is what you want:





Apple patented that a few years ago.

and a pic i posted a few months ago
post #25 of 58
Do people really not get the point of this?

In the end I don't think this application will stand. There are many companies designing along these lines and there should be plenty of prior art around.
post #26 of 58
It actually sounds like a huge amount of things can be done with this but my only worry is how reliable it would be. Everything touch sensitive I've ever used has been unreliable. To make a touch pad the entire size of a keyboard and expect it to work properly over years of use is risky.

Also, when you can just plug in a USB device that does the same thing but probably cheaper because it doesn't have to be specially made for one brand/model of notebook, it doesn't make sense to do this.
post #27 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gilliam Bates

Conceptually, this is much cooler than it appears to be. What Apple has done is much more than listed a few new(?) input devices, because:

1) They have actually identified the lowest common denominator for most super-popular gizmos today a base unit for computers, cell phones, iPods, remote controls, game controllers, PSP:s etc. , and

2) They have shown that they can produce such base units (of different sizes and shapes), and leave the rest as cheap and customizable add-ons.

This is taking a mathematical mode of procedure and applying it to product development, and it's brilliant. Maybe there won't be any direct gizmo-spawning out of this, but surely there will be lots of indirect advancements in current product lines.

Interesting perspective. I see multifunctional user configurable UI's becoming a big thing down the line, and Apple do seem to be increasingly better placed to becoming a big player with the way the iPod has developed, the likely iPhone and Intel's low thermal processing power.

I love Macs, but branching out in the right places is the way for this Apple tree to grow as proven by the little Pod that could. Especially if the OS essentials can be maintained as needed in all of Apple's future products, seeing as Moore's Law is steadily taking us in the direction of ubiquitous computing...


His original paper's art by the way. Computers: for sale, at a counter!? A shocking idea at the time!

Apple have the inventiveness and the design instincts to lead the charge into great new directions. Just keep our Macs coming so we have something to hub everything together with. 8)
post #28 of 58
It would be a good idea if Korg, Roland or Contour could license to make music and video production control surfaces.
post #29 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin

It actually sounds like a huge amount of things can be done with this but my only worry is how reliable it would be. Everything touch sensitive I've ever used has been unreliable. To make a touch pad the entire size of a keyboard and expect it to work properly over years of use is risky.

Also, when you can just plug in a USB device that does the same thing but probably cheaper because it doesn't have to be specially made for one brand/model of notebook, it doesn't make sense to do this.

Why would you worry? Let Steve do it.

"George E. Gerpheide invented the touchpad in 1988. Apple Computer licensed his design and first used it in its PowerBook notebook computers in 1994. Since then, the touchpad has become the most common cursor control device for notebook computers."

And as usual, in 1994 the naysayers came out roaring. Just like in 1984 when the Mac was introduced. Mouse. 3.5 floppy. Trash can. GUI.

As for this new filling, this is not like the 'simple' touch pad that we have available today. Significantly more comprehensive, complicated and sensitive. Obviously, the positioning and securing of mechanical attachments is paramount.

What is amazing about this concept is the prospect of 1) creating "hot-swappable mechanical control interfaces," which are usually the least expensive component of electronic instrumentation, 2) using the Mac laptop's powerful internal processor/quality-controlledhardware/screen and 3) probably the most significant, the Mac OS.

Why not just USB the device? Steve hates wires. Seriously, this creates a paradigm of new business opportunities for third-party developers. Like the iPod did, being able create the mechanical interfaces and the software to run them using the built-in Mac or Microsoft OS in a quality controlled Apple box will undoubtedly enhance the development of more products.
post #30 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Strawberry

It would be a good idea if Korg, Roland or Contour could license to make music and video production control surfaces.

Not sure if they would need to license anything. What would stop them from outright purchasing the iBrick as I refer to it, afixing their control surfaces and preloading or even hardcoding the necessary software. As such, most of us would just connect our external keyboard and use it like any other computer.

"Mac inside of everything"
post #31 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by SpamSandwich

This is not necessarily significant to any theorized future products. I can't see any advantages other than from a manufacturing standpoint.

You could have a multi-function device (like a game controller with custom controls that are included in the game package).

My S-E P800 phone does this for the keyboard input, each button presses the touchscreen behind it (and leaves a mark, so the bottom half of the touchscreen has a grid of dents on it).
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post #32 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ireland

However many times I've read this patent it still seizes to amaze me.

Well don't have a seizure. I think you mean, "...ceases to amaze me." 8)
post #33 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by ascii

Why have the devices interface through the trackpad? Why not just a USB port like anything else? They can still sit on top of the computer.

Yes, or some other port protocol.

It's not precisely clear what existing problem is being solved with this invention.

If we figure that out though, we should be onto something...

I think that it could solve software configuration problems, user identification problems, space problems...

though i don't really know how it could be better at this than an electronic protocol...

Maybe it reduces the costs and powering problems of an electroninc interface...
added devices could be totally mechanical.

As a promotional action, Mac Donalds could add a little plastic game controller to their Big Mac menu + a download code for a specific game fetchable via iTunes, that starts up right when your Mc Donalds controller is recognized on your touchpad.
post #34 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by JupiterOne

Well don't have a seizure. I think you mean, "...ceases to amaze me." 8)

Odder is that he said "_still_ seizes to amaze me". If repeatedly seeing the patent still ceases to amaze him, doesn't bode well for apple's fancy gadget, I guess.
post #35 of 58
It'd be pretty difficult to close the laptop with that joystick poking up out of it.
post #36 of 58
Quote:
Originally Posted by Abster2core

Seems like the future might be that you just buy a Mac OS XBrick Pro, with for example, a 10, 12, 15, or 17 inch screen and a bare, equally corresponding fully sized multipurpose touch interface. From there, you select your own keyboard configuration or other mechanical controller from Apple or other manufacturers, that with the appropriate software turns your machine from a standard laptop into a professional instrument.

These are tantalizing assumptions. What if the consumer electronics of the future includes a stereolithographic (3D) printer? You could customize or buy a predesigned control surface/template and then just "print" your own computing solution...

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post #37 of 58
And for the desktop users...
  1. Apple buys or enters into a deal with Wacom
  2. They create a bluetooth Wacom tablet with removable overlays
  3. Each overlay has an embedded RFID chip that identifies it to the tablet and computer
  4. Apple insists on including an open standard Plug-In interface for others to develop both overlays and software to take advantage of it
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post #38 of 58
I love this idea. Thousands of possibilities for software developers. Hopefully we'll get far past these limited input binary type devices. More pressure sensitive and responsive inputs. This is just the beginning of customizability of devices.
post #39 of 58
People seem so focused on the track pad. Apple needs to cover their ass and yet not giveaway keys to the kingdom. Not long ago we all wondered how they may make the no touch touch screen into a product. Now everybody is dreaming of a full screen iPod. Just think about how great the video will look a few months from now after we've all been rubbing our mitts across the thing with some sort of a skin.

Now we hear about a skin and can't fathom the value. I'm trusting Apple to have sepnt a good deal of time on the details. Not to say they never make mistakes but they get it right a lot more often than wrong. Remember the hype 5 years ago about a product announcement that would change our lives and the utter disappointment when all the did was launch "just another MP3 player." Many thought Steve had blown all his credibility by pushing a me too product on us and expecting that just because they are Apple we should go along. What has happened since then can only make Steve's prognostications seem like an understatement.

I wait with open expectations for lots of cool new things and I'm only sorry we won't see all the things that never emerge. Apple has delighted me over and over again for over 2 decades and it's only getting better now that the tech is chatching up with the creativeness.

MW
post #40 of 58
Consider this: It could also be for desktop displays.

Approach this from the display side instead of an input peripheral perspective. Apps could enhance their tool-bar/status-bar by making a plastic sheet with holes that clips onto the touch sensitive display.

Useful? Who knows. But as the average monitor size gets larger and larger, we will dream up more things to do with our displays. Marginally useful things will start getting their own screen real estate.
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