Apple seeks to improve the stylus with dynamic input based on pressure, grip, angle & more

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited May 2015
As rumors suggest Apple will launch a 12.9-inch iPad with a new stylus accessory later this year, a new patent application offers a glimpse at what the company could be working on, describing an advanced stylus that would offer much more dynamic ways of interacting with a touchscreen than just the press of a finger.




The stylus concept was revealed in Apple's filing for "Expanded Function Touch Sensor Implement," published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and discovered by AppleInsider. The newly disclosed concept describes a stylus-type accessory with multiple sensors that would act in concert with a touchscreen device, like an iPad.

In the filing, Apple notes that with current capacitive touchscreens, users can "mash" their fingertip against the screen, deforming it to contact a variable area of a touchscreen. A traditional stylus, meanwhile, does not offer as much precision, simply acting as a specific point where touch input is sensed.

"As such, use of a stylus or other implement with a touch sensor may not be as flexible as use of a finger or other body part," the application reads.

Apple's solution is to create an advanced stylus with a number of sensors to detect a variety of types of input. These could include the angle at which the stylus is touching the display, or the distance of the stylus from the device, potentially allowing for 3D input.




Those features sound similar to an advanced stylus described in earlier rumors, said to be in the works by Apple. Specifically, it was said that the company plans to release a stylus that would include a built-in gyroscope or accelerometer to allow new features like 3D handwriting.

Apple's patent application also describes a stylus with a "grip sensor" that would sense the amount of force with which the user is gripping the instrument. The filing also describes a pressure sensor that would measure how hard the user is pressing the stylus against the device -- something that could take advantage of Force Touch input rumored to be on future iPads.

Another input method described by Apple is a "strain gauge" that would measure how much strain is being exerted on the stylus by the user. Finally, Apple also notes that its stylus could also include hardware buttons that could be pressed for alternative input methods.

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


AppleInsider's own sources have indicated that the company is working on a 12.9-inch tablet, known colloquially as an "iPad Pro," that will feature a Bluetooth-connected stylus. Separately, analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities has said that Apple plans to launch the larger iPad with a simple stylus this year, while more advanced features such as 3D handwriting, are unlikely to arrive until next year at the earliest, with a new and more advanced stylus.

This week's patent application is far from the first filing by Apple revealing the company's behind-the-scenes interest in developing a stylus. One concept detailed by AppleInsider last year included an extendable multitouch nib with onboard light and motion sensors, while another stylus patent published earlier this year described once again how a stylus can offer more precise input than a fingertip.

Apple's latest patent filing was first submitted to the USPTO in November of 2013. It is credited to Christopher J. Herrick and Agustya R. Mehta.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Apple patents anything they invent, regardless of intent to use it, in case it becomes important some day. Stylus patents do mean something--they indicate an interest in the topic by Apple--but people shouldn't hope (or fear) for specific features that show up in a patent.

    I hope they do ship an optional stylus though, or else better support for a new class of more advanced 3rd-party ones. I know artists who couldn't give up their iPad art apps, but would love better options for styluses.
  • Reply 2 of 21
    gqbgqb Posts: 1,934member
    Quote:
    ...a touch sensor may not be as flexible as use of a finger or other body part...

    um, just what body parts are they using to write on their iPads down in Cupertino?

  • Reply 3 of 21
    gqbgqb Posts: 1,934member
    What I don't understand is, if the screen supports 'force touch', why would it be necessary for the stylus to support it as well? Why would the stylus care how hard you're pressing if the screen knows?


    Force touch sensing on the stylus would only make sense on a current gen iPad, without force touch.
  • Reply 4 of 21
    I really want a stylus on the iPad. At this point, I'm anticipating something pretty impressive as Apple wouldn't enter the space unless there was something better about than other solutions.
    Problems it could overcome:
    lag (pencil line trails pen stroke by significant amount on most current solutions)
    offset between tip and pixels being effected
    feel of the screen under tip (smooth glass is very different than paper)
    Problems with accidental press of buttons on stylus

    Very tough space to stand out, however, given Wacom and Microsoft Surface have been doing a great job with this.
  • Reply 5 of 21
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,670member
    Please, no-one mention Steve Jobs, or what Steve Jobs once might have said in this thread.

    An iPad specific stylus from Apple would be fantastic. Anyone that has tried a 3rd party stylus on an Air will agree. In light of the iPad Pro rumors a stylus is plausible imo. Crossing fingers.
  • Reply 6 of 21
    satchmosatchmo Posts: 2,699member
    I don't see any benefits of grip pressure other than perhaps a shortcut selection to application tools.

    People have used pencils to draw for eons without any sort of grip feature. Just make the stylus act and work like a pencil/brush/pen.

    There's no need to reinvent the wheel. There's already enough UI combinations from swiping with four fingers to force touch trackpads. The last thing I need is some new way to grip a bloody pen.
  • Reply 7 of 21
    entropysentropys Posts: 3,113member
    I don't believe tales of force touch on iPads or iPhones. There isnt enough room. Look at the tear downs of MacBooks and you can see what I mean. Incorporating force touch into the stylus in the other hand, I can believe.
  • Reply 8 of 21
    slurpyslurpy Posts: 5,317member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Entropys View Post



    I don't believe tales of force touch on iPads or iPhones. There isnt enough room. Look at the tear downs of MacBooks and you can see what I mean. Incorporating force touch into the stylus in the other hand, I can believe.

     

    Would seem more cost-effective, as well as universal, since current iPad would support dynamic pressure this way with a software update. 

  • Reply 9 of 21
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,548moderator
    entropys wrote: »
    I don't believe tales of force touch on iPads or iPhones. There isnt enough room. Look at the tear downs of MacBooks and you can see what I mean. Incorporating force touch into the stylus in the other hand, I can believe.

    The large part is the electromagnet to make the click. This wouldn't be possible in a multi-touch device because it wouldn't simulate two clicks close together. The sensors for pressure aren't that large, they can use the speaker or vibration motor to give feedback.
    gqb wrote:
    What I don't understand is, if the screen supports 'force touch', why would it be necessary for the stylus to support it as well? Why would the stylus care how hard you're pressing if the screen knows?
    Force touch sensing on the stylus would only make sense on a current gen iPad, without force touch.

    It would be more accurate on the pen.

    "input information from such a stylus or other implement may be limited to detecting the touch at the exact tip of the stylus or other implement. Unlike a finger, which may “mash” or otherwise be deformable to contact a variable area of a touch sensor, the physical area contactable by a stylus or other implement may not be controllable. As such, use of a stylus or other implement with a touch sensor may not be as flexible as use of a finger or other body part."

    Apple showed a 3rd party stylus in one of their ads recently, which is one of the few that can do finer writing because of the small tip and transparent disc:

    https://www.apple.com/ipad/change-everything/learning/

    1000

    http://www.adonit.net/jot/pro/

    One thing to watch out for with a fine tip would be scratching up anti-glare coatings and even cracking the display if people press too hard on a small point. I expect the tip of the pen would be dampened so that it doesn't put too much pressure on the glass.

    Another reason for special sensors in the pen is for palm rejection. When the pen is in close proximity to the display, the iPad can disable input from the hand but possibly leave some finger input active.

    The handle pressure sensor can be used for navigating and moving things so with an image layer for example, you can hover above it, squeeze the pen and drag the layer around, even rotate (twist/tilt) and scale (move pen towards/away).

    It would be a bonus in education over laptops for inputting equations and for drawing classes.
  • Reply 10 of 21
    dasanman69dasanman69 Posts: 13,001member
    paxman wrote: »
    Please, no-one mention Steve Jobs, or what Steve Jobs once might have said in this thread.

    An iPad specific stylus from Apple would be fantastic. Anyone that has tried a 3rd party stylus on an Air will agree. In light of the iPad Pro rumors a stylus is plausible imo. Crossing fingers.

    400
  • Reply 11 of 21
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,054member
    I use note taking apps for my iPad Air 2.

    If I use finger to draw or write, I cannot let my palm touch the screen otherwise it would register as a stroke.

    If I use Wacom pen, it will help reduce palm but it is totally awkward. When writing or drawing, thee strokes are several pixels offset from the tip.

    iPad Pro should have the stylus for writing or drawing. It would be a much welcome feature.

    I will definitely upgrade from iPad Air 2 to iPad Pro once it comes out.
  • Reply 12 of 21
    netroxnetrox Posts: 1,054member

    BTW, the stylus is NOT designed to replace the gestures used to execute commands. The stylus is only for drawing or writing. 

     

    Studies show that writing improves your cognition. It makes you think while you write and helps you brainstorm better. Typing doesn't offer that kind of benefit. 

  • Reply 13 of 21
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    satchmo wrote: »
    People have used pencils to draw for eons without any sort of grip feature. Just make the stylus act and work like a pencil/brush/pen.

    There's no need to reinvent the wheel.

    "please, just make the computer work like a typewriter"
  • Reply 14 of 21
    idreyidrey Posts: 647member
    gqb wrote: »
    um, just what body parts are they using to write on their iPads down in Cupertino?
    I've seen people use an iPhone with out one had. (Missing a hand) they use what is left of their arm
  • Reply 15 of 21
    satchmosatchmo Posts: 2,699member
    nolamacguy wrote: »
    "please, just make the computer work like a typewriter"

    Form follows function.
  • Reply 16 of 21
    deepen03deepen03 Posts: 101member
    So... like the Surface Pro 3? and now Surface Pen for Surface 3?

    Nice try Apple.

    Microsoft needs to patent the Surface Pen and prevent Apple from stealing their ideas!
  • Reply 17 of 21
    deepen03deepen03 Posts: 101member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by GQB View Post

     



    The Surface Pen already has these same features.. Apple isn't doing anything new.

  • Reply 18 of 21
    misamisa Posts: 827member
    deepen03 wrote: »
    So... like the Surface Pro 3? and now Surface Pen for Surface 3?

    Nice try Apple.

    Microsoft needs to patent the Surface Pen and prevent Apple from stealing their ideas!

    The surface Pro 2 had a superior Wacom digitizer. The Surface Pro 3 has an nTrig sensor that leverages the touch screen itself, but everyone that's an artist hates it and are keeping the Surface Pro 2's. Microsoft is always quick to sink their own ship, geez.

    For reference, it's like Apple selling IPS monitors and tablets, and then everyone selling their own IPS monitors and tablets at the same cost as Apple, and when they don't sell, they switch them back to TN panels and try to still sell them as equivalent. They are not.
  • Reply 19 of 21
    deepen03deepen03 Posts: 101member
    Quote:

     


     

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Misa View Post





    The surface Pro 2 had a superior Wacom digitizer. The Surface Pro 3 has an nTrig sensor that leverages the touch screen itself, but everyone that's an artist hates it and are keeping the Surface Pro 2's. Microsoft is always quick to sink their own ship, geez.



    For reference, it's like Apple selling IPS monitors and tablets, and then everyone selling their own IPS monitors and tablets at the same cost as Apple, and when they don't sell, they switch them back to TN panels and try to still sell them as equivalent. They are not.

     

    What are you talking about? nobody is keeping Pro 2s lol.. Surface Pro 3 has broken sales records and is far more superior. The Pen doesn't leverage the screen, they actually improved the pressure sensitivity and added palm block tech. You can press harder or lighter on the pen to make the ink appear thicker or thinner in OneNote and any other pen app.

     

    From Microsoft.com: "The fine tip, along with Palm Block technology and multi-point sensitivity in your Surface, lets you write and draw naturally."

     

    Adjust pressure sensitivity for your Surface Pen

    You can use the Surface app to adjust built-in pressure detection to your writing style. Here’s how:

    Step 1:To open the app, swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and tap Search.

    Step 2:In the search box, enter surface, and in the search results, tap or click Surface.

    Step 3:Swipe left to Settings.

    Step 4:Under Pen Pressure Sensitivity, adjust the slider to change your pen sensitivity.

    Step 5:Under Ink Test, test your pen sensitivity by drawing or writing with varying pressure.

    Step 6:Continue to adjust and test the sensitivity until it’s just where you like it.

    The app saves your setting automatically.

     

    Speaking of Surface sales: http://www.engadget.com/2015/04/23/microsoft-q3-2015-earnings/

     

    "After a very slow start, Microsoft's Surface finally seems to be hitting its stride. The company made $713 million from Surface sales last quarter, a 44 percent jump over last year, according to its latest earnings report. And yes, it's attributing much of that to the Surface Pro 3, which also saw strong sales during the previous quarter."

  • Reply 20 of 21
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,648member
    Makes me think of NASA, they developed a multimillion dollar ballpoint to be able to write in space.
    When an American astronaut asked a Russian college how they tackled the problem, the Russian astronaut showed him a one cent pencil.
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