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

Posted:
in General Discussion edited March 2014
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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    marvfoxmarvfox Posts: 2,275member

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

  • Reply 2 of 35
    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.
  • Reply 3 of 35

    Another Step ahead of the competition.  

  • Reply 4 of 35

    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. 

  • Reply 5 of 35
    froodfrood Posts: 771member
    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
  • Reply 6 of 35
    fracfrac Posts: 480member
    frood wrote: »
    [CONTENTEMBED=/t/161662/apples-new-trackpad-patent-replaces-click-button-with-force-sensors-adds-tactile-feedback#post_2460319 layout=inline]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[/CONTENTEMBED]

    'Similar functionality....'
    What? Where? On what machine?
  • Reply 7 of 35
    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.

  • Reply 8 of 35
    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.

  • Reply 9 of 35
    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. 

  • Reply 10 of 35
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    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.

  • Reply 11 of 35
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member
    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.

  • Reply 12 of 35
    jasenj1jasenj1 Posts: 922member

    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.

  • Reply 13 of 35
    muppetrymuppetry Posts: 3,331member
    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.

  • Reply 14 of 35
    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.

  • Reply 15 of 35
    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.
  • Reply 16 of 35
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,548moderator
    frac wrote: »
    '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:



    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.
  • Reply 17 of 35
    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.
  • Reply 18 of 35
    Mine lasts at least 2 months on continuous use.

    I also have not noticed any Trackpad issues under Mavericks.

    Wanted to thumbs up you, but 'I'm over my limit for rating content. Please try again later.'
  • Reply 19 of 35
    Marvin wrote: »
    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."
  • Reply 20 of 35
    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.

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