Apple developing "mechanical overlay" touch interface

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 57
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    However many times I've read this patent it still seizes to amaze me.
  • Reply 2 of 57
    This is not necessarily significant to any theorized future products. I can't see any advantages other than from a manufacturing standpoint.
  • Reply 3 of 57
    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.
  • Reply 4 of 57
    this would be sooooo bloat vapor! not needed and ugly.
  • Reply 5 of 57
    I personally like this idea much better than having overlays.



  • Reply 6 of 57
    well guys I imagine the DJs would like this as a mixing board
  • Reply 7 of 57
    My Intellivision controller did this, what? 30 years ago?



  • Reply 8 of 57
    This would be awesome for those of us in the live electronic music world.



    But..pointless for anyone else.
  • Reply 9 of 57
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 1,937member
    Sure, that was interesting and all, but without E.T. I just come off dissapointed...
  • Reply 10 of 57
    Fisher Price has this concept already:

    http://www.fisher-price.com/us/interactv/intro.asp



    And it's wireless...
  • Reply 11 of 57
    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!
  • Reply 12 of 57
    From the guy that brought you the rotary mouse.



  • Reply 13 of 57
    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...
  • Reply 14 of 57
    it's the iEverything
  • Reply 15 of 57
    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.
  • Reply 16 of 57
    Many great inventions began with most people saying ? ?WTF would I do with that?
  • Reply 17 of 57
    19841984 Posts: 955member
    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.
  • Reply 18 of 57
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    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.
  • Reply 19 of 57
    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!"
  • Reply 20 of 57
    macgregormacgregor Posts: 1,434member
    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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