Apple's stylus receiver concept would improve the precision of digital pen-based input

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited February 2015
As recent rumors have suggested Apple could offer a simple stylus to enhance a larger iPad model, a new patent application shows what kind of improved pen-based input technology the company has been working on behind the scenes.




Apple's investigations into stylus support for touchscreen devices was disclosed in a new filing published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week, discovered by AppleInsider. The proposed invention, entitled Superheterodyne Pen Stimulus Signal Receiver," describes a device that could have a unique frequency for stylus-based input that would be less than that of a traditional fingertip touch signal.

In the filing, Apple notes that most conventional styluses have a bulky tip made of a material capable of interacting with a touch-sensitive device. These devices are often meant to emulate a user's finger for compatibility with modern touchscreens, which are meant to be controlled with fingertips.

But Apple says that these conventional styluses, by their nature, lack the precision and control of traditional writing instruments, like a pen and paper.

In the proposed invention, Apple says its goal is to create a stylus capable of generating more precise input than a fingertip or current styluses can allow. Apple's solution is additional hardware that it says would not consume more power than a conventional touch-sensitive device.

Apple's method would use a "superheterodyne receiver," which can take an input signal and convert it to another frequency. The technology actually dates back to the origins of radio transmissions, and was developed by a U.S. soldier during Wold War I.




Virtually all modern radio receivers use "superhet" technology for superior selectivity and sensitivity. But in Apple's more modern use, a hardware demodulator inside a device like an iPad would convert stylus touch input signals into an intermediate frequency signal less than that of a traditional fingertip touch signal.

In short, Apple's system would feature a touch sensor that could detect the difference between a fingertip touch and a stylus touch, and offer more precise input accordingly.

The new patent application comes soon after a recent rumor suggested Apple could launch a simple stylus alongside an anticipated 12.9-inch "iPad Pro" later this year. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities also noted that a stylus is more precise than a person's fingers, which could make it a more convenient method of input than a keyboard and mouse in some cases.

Pencil
Development studio FiftyThree's iPad stylus is one of dozens already on the market.


According to Kuo, Apple is likely to launch the stylus accessory as an optional add-on, rather than including it alongside the jumbo iPad. He believes the stylus will feature basic technology in its first iteration, while future models could add more advanced features like 3D handwriting.

Though the company has publicly panned pen-based input for years, Apple's interest in stylus-based input is not new. This week's filing is just the latest in a string (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) of stylus concepts the company has explored behind the scenes.

The superhet stylus signal receiver concept, published this week, was first filed with the USPTO by Apple in October of 2013. The proposed invention is credited to Shahrooz Shahparnia, whose LinkedIn profile states he is a touch ASIC and sensor architect at Apple.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 55
    If Apple could make a pen better than Wacom I'd be all over that.
  • Reply 2 of 55
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,246member
    A pen has it's uses, but should never be the main input on a mobile device with a touch screen. Using your fingers is natural. I remember back using my HP iPaq Windows Mobile 5 PDA. It of course used a Pen as it's only real way to Input. Not that you could use your fingers anyway if you could with all the little boxes and drop down menu's and whatnot. Which is why later they went away from that and came up with the Metro interface designed for touch. There's nothing wrong with a Pen. It comes in handy for Drawing Apps and whatnot. I can't draw worth a crap, and don't have much need for a pen and I'm sure most don't have a need. Seeing results of pictures people have done on iPads when there's no Pen support is quite amazing. That's real talent. A larger iPad, a Pen starts to make some sense, but again only for a few people. Larger Tablets in the past have been huge, bulky and heavy. You didn't want to carry the thing around, and hold it on your Lap. With how thin and light ipads have become, making a larger version shouldn't be to bad. I like my iPad 3 and the screen size. I think the Mini, or any 7-8" tablet is almost pointless. If you're going to have a tablet, something quite a bit bigger then your phone makes it worth it. Slightly larger seems pointless to me.
  • Reply 3 of 55
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    So how many pen patents do we have from Apple now? At least 20? When do we see an actual product out of them?
  • Reply 4 of 55
    rogifan wrote: »
    So how many pen patents do we have from Apple now? At least 20? When do we see an actual product out of them?

    Actually, Apple buying Wacom would be a nice fit and they'd capture all of that IP.
  • Reply 5 of 55
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,670member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post



    Actually, Apple buying Wacom would be a nice fit and they'd capture all of that IP.

    I have used Wacom's tablet inputs in the past and they have been great. The Intuos Creative Stylus 2 for the iPad is not a great product (depending on which app you intend to use it with). An Apple developed stylus would be very welcome.

  • Reply 6 of 55
    pazuzupazuzu Posts: 1,728member
    It took 10 years for Apple to get the mouse right- good luck with that.
  • Reply 7 of 55
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    jbdragon wrote: »
    A pen has it's uses, but should never be the main input on a mobile device with a touch screen. Using your fingers is natural. I remember back using my HP iPaq Windows Mobile 5 PDA. It of course used a Pen as it's only real way to Input. Not that you could use your fingers anyway if you could with all the little boxes and drop down menu's and whatnot. Which is why later they went away from that and came up with the Metro interface designed for touch. There's nothing wrong with a Pen. It comes in handy for Drawing Apps and whatnot. I can't draw worth a crap, and don't have much need for a pen and I'm sure most don't have a need. Seeing results of pictures people have done on iPads when there's no Pen support is quite amazing. That's real talent. A larger iPad, a Pen starts to make some sense, but again only for a few people. Larger Tablets in the past have been huge, bulky and heavy. You didn't want to carry the thing around, and hold it on your Lap. With how thin and light ipads have become, making a larger version shouldn't be to bad. I like my iPad 3 and the screen size. I think the Mini, or any 7-8" tablet is almost pointless. If you're going to have a tablet, something quite a bit bigger then your phone makes it worth it. Slightly larger seems pointless to me.

    No one is suggesting that Apple will suddenly say that we need to use a stylus.

    But, when I bought my first iPad, in May of 2010, which was the first cellular model of the first iPad, the first thing I was asked by the Apple guy who was helping me with the sales was; "Do you want a stylus with that?" I said yes.

    I now have six different styluses. A couple use radios, one doesn't but has batteries, and the rest are variations on standard function styluses.

    There are times when a finger is simply not enough.
  • Reply 8 of 55
    mr omr o Posts: 1,046member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by pazuzu View Post



    It took 10 years for Apple to get the mouse right- good luck with that.



    Here's a pen Jony Ive did as an intern.





    source: Quora


     

  • Reply 9 of 55
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,670member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by JBDragon View Post



    A pen has it's uses, but should never be the main input on a mobile device with a touch screen. Using your fingers is natural. 

     

    I don't really understand that point of view in spite of what Steve jobs said when he was originally selling the idea. Now that we are all familiar with touch input (i.e. no need for a hard sell), why, prey tell, SHOULD a stylus never be the main input device? I prefer to use a keyboard and would love the ability to use a mouse as well. I accept touch input but it will never be my preference even if at times it is very convenient. It just isn't accurate enough, and there are number of tasks where it is just awkward. (text editing, spreadsheets, video editing, drawing etc.) Fingers are fat. I mean, if Apple brings out a good stylus and 10% of iPad users decide to use that stylus as the main input device are they somehow wrong?

  • Reply 10 of 55
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    Actually, Apple buying Wacom would be a nice fit and they'd capture all of that IP.

    We don't need that, though I still use Wacom's with my Mac Pro. My first Wacom was an 18 x 12 inch model for use with my Atari ST. That model was pretty heavy, and cost $1,200. That was a lot of money back then, in the late1980's. It also had no features other than to allow you to map the shape of the tablet to the screen.

    But Apple can do this. The Samsung Note uses Wacom technology, I believe. All Apple needs to do is integrate a resistive layer with the touch layer. It's being done elsewhere.
  • Reply 11 of 55
    mr omr o Posts: 1,046member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by paxman View Post

     

     

    I don't really understand that point of view in spite of what Steve jobs said when he was originally selling the idea. Now that we are all familiar with touch input (i.e. no need for a hard sell), why, prey tell, SHOULD a stylus never be the main input device? I prefer to use a keyboard and would love the ability to use a mouse as well. I accept touch input but it will never be my preference even if at times it is very convenient. It just isn't accurate enough, and there are number of tasks where it is just awkward. (text editing, spreadsheets, video editing, drawing etc.) Fingers are fat. I mean, if Apple brings out a good stylus and 10% of iPad users decide to use that stylus as the main input device are they somehow wrong?




    A stylus is going to bring the iPad to a whole new level of productivity for creatives. Sure, an artist can use his fingers to create a painting, but a pencil is just a better tool for the job.

     

    That is not to say that a pencil is going to replace the intuitive touch interface using fingers. The pen should be sold as an accessory.

  • Reply 12 of 55
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    paxman wrote: »
    I have used Wacom's tablet inputs in the past and they have been great. The Intuos Creative Stylus 2 for the iPad is not a great product (depending on which app you intend to use it with). An Apple developed stylus would be very welcome.

    I have that stylus too. I agree that it's not the greatest. But it's not bad.

    The major problem I've found is that even if these styluses are great, few apps support them, as opposed to the basic capacitive design we can now get for free, as giveaways. If Apple comes out with a standard design that uses internal circuits to the iPad/iPhone, then developers will support that functionality. Assuming that Apple allows developers to make compatible styluses, they will be supported too.

    I've experimented with making styluses. What I found several years ago is that a very powerful magnet, such as niobium, in the right size and shape, which can be quite small, will activate the screen as well. Why someone hasn't come out with a stylus with a smaller point based on that, I can't understand. I find it hard to believe that I'm the only one to figure out that a magnet would work, and to experiment with them. While the average person doesn't have the equipment I do to cut and grind materials such as hard magnets, anyone making a stylus can go to a shop that does, and work out a design. A thin layer of plastic over the hard magnet prevents screen damage.
  • Reply 13 of 55
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    pazuzu wrote: »
    It took 10 years for Apple to get the mouse right- good luck with that.

    Why are you always so negative? Most of Apple's mice were just fine. The only odd one was the round one for the first iMacs. Why don't you concentrate on the vast majority of Apple's products that do work very well instead?
  • Reply 14 of 55
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,670member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mr O View Post

     

    A stylus is going to bring the iPad to a whole new level of productivity for creatives. Sure, an artist can use his fingers to create a painting, but a pencil is just a better tool for the job.

     

    That is not to say that a pencil is going to replace the intuitive touch interface using fingers. The pen should be sold as an accessory.


    Yes, I agree - an accessory. Including a pen with a touch based device would be like chucking money away. 

  • Reply 15 of 55
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    mr o wrote: »

    A stylus is going to bring the iPad to a whole new level of productivity for creatives. Sure, an artist can use his fingers to create a painting, but a pencil is just a better tool for the job.

    That is not to say that a pencil is going to replace the intuitive touch interface using fingers. The pen should be sold as an accessory.

    I think we can agree with that last point of yours.

    I find that there are certain classes of apps where a stylus is required. Sure, I could do it with my finger, but it's fairly to really difficult. In the old days, with my Palm Treo 700p, with the resistive screen, I could use my fingernail for input, either tapping (hurts after a while though), or using it as a pencil.

    The problem with the finger is that it's pretty fat. You can't really see anything. Even apps that magnify around the finger have problems in that area. We're also trained from a very young age how to hold a pencil, or pen, to write and draw. It's difficult to work around that conditioning. I find signing my name with a forefinger to be harder than using a stylus.

    But drawing apps, where I need to put a line exactly, requires a stylus. Same thing for photo editing and 3D design apps.
  • Reply 16 of 55
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,670member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by melgross View Post





    I have that stylus too. I agree that it's not the greatest. But it's not bad.



    The major problem I've found is that even if these styluses are great, few apps support them, as opposed to the basic capacitive design we can now get for free, as giveaways. If Apple comes out with a standard design that uses internal circuits to the iPad/iPhone, then developers will support that functionality. Assuming that Apple allows developers to make compatible styluses, they will be supported too.



    I've experimented with making styluses. What I found several years ago is that a very powerful magnet, such as niobium, in the right size and shape, which can be quite small, will activate the screen as well. Why someone hasn't come out with a stylus with a smaller point based on that, I can't understand. I find it hard to believe that I'm the only one to figure out that a magnet would work, and to experiment with them. While the average person doesn't have the equipment I do to cut and grind materials such as hard magnets, anyone making a stylus can go to a shop that does, and work out a design. A thin layer of plastic over the hard magnet prevents screen damage.

    That's interesting. With a small pointy magnet - is there no lag or offset? And what about pressure sensitivity? 

  • Reply 17 of 55
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    paxman wrote: »
    Yes, I agree - an accessory. Including a pen with a touch based device would be like chucking money away. 

    It's interesting that you would say that, after saying human Apple developed stylus would be a good thing.

    I believe that if a stylus was included, and I"m not saying that Apple ahould do that because of cost considerations, people would use it. This is one reason we don't see great support for the more esoteric designs now that do have pressure sensitivity, fine points and other features. Why support something that almost no one has?

    This is the chicken and egg problem.
  • Reply 18 of 55
    pazuzu wrote: »
    It took 10 years for Apple to get the mouse right- good luck with that.

    Actually, Apple got the mouse right in 1984 with the release of the Mac.
  • Reply 19 of 55
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,030member
    paxman wrote: »
    That's interesting. With a small pointy magnet - is there no lag or offset? And what about pressure sensitivity? 

    No pressure sensitivity. That takes electronics in the stylus and circuits in the device. But the point is about 3/32" in diameter. It's a matter of getting the magnet to be strong enough, and to have the magnetic field in the right orientation. The magnet itself needs to be big enough to have enough of a field, but the point can be small.

    Of course, now you're dealing with a strong magnet. I suppose the rest of the magnet could be shielded with a magnetic field around it, but that was too much to work on for me to bother.
  • Reply 20 of 55
    A pen with a larger iPad is just the ticket. An iPad emulating A4, 8 1/2 x 11 or legal size pads would be ideal. Add to that OS and software that would simultaneously allow reading a book and taking notes (like writing notes in the margins) would drive sales for certain. I would definitely buy such a device.
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