Apple looks to patent hybrid input device that uses motion, touch for next-level control

in General Discussion edited January 2014
In a patent application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple details a hybrid input peripheral that boasts built-in inertial sensors and an external touchpad, affording users a large range of motion and fine-tuned control with one device.

Hybrid Input
Source: USPTO

Published by the Patent Office on Thursday, Apple's "Hybrid Inertial and Touch Sensing Input Device" filing looks to bundle the positive attributes of traditional input devices like mice, trackballs and trackpads into a single product.

Typically, a computer mouse uses an optical sensor, trackball or track wheels to control an onscreen cursor. Trackpads, like the multitouch unit used throughout Apple's MacBook lineup, use capacitive signals disposed across a small area to track motion. Other types of devices use accelerometers and inertial sensors to detect movement, which is translated onscreen by the computer.

These input methods all have positive and negative aspects inherent to their respective designs. As noted in the patent language, "most, if not all, conventional input devices are inadequate in tracking both large and fine motions." For example, inertia-based inputs excel at tracking large ranges of motion, but are limited when it comes to fine movements. On the other hand, trackpads are excellent at reproducing fine ranges of motion, but it would take a user more effort to move a cursor across a display than with a mouse.

Hybrid Input
Block diagram of input device.

While device drivers help bridge the gap with software, Apple's patent application gives a hardware solution that incorporates both a motion sensor for wide control, and a touch pad for fine applications. Two processes are at work: a calculation of velocity and acceleration, and positioning data from the touch sensor. The two input processes determine the output signal, and thus how a cursor moves onscreen.

A problem arises when combining the two forms of input, however, as the device needs to "know" when to use motion data from the accelerometer, and when to use signals from the trackpad. In order to make the system work seamlessly, and without user assistance, the document describes a system which uses thresholds to manage device output.

Discussed in detail are how velocity and capacitance, or touch, data correspond with one another over time. By setting thresholds for these signals, or lack thereof, the device can intelligently determine whether to use an output process based on motion or touch. Velocity can be a measure of acceleration, while touch signals can be measured by a user's finger position or pressure.

Weighting is also implemented to further refine the system. For example, if a velocity threshold is passed, but a predefined touch threshold is not, the device will determine that a user is meaning to move a cursor via inertial control. Likewise, if a pressure or capacitance threshold is crossed, and weighted heavily against a minor inertial movement, the system will use touch input.

As with many Apple patent applications, it is unclear if the property will ever be used in a commercial product. Technology exists to build such a device, however, and many components already deployed in various iOS device and Mac products.

Apple's hybrid input device application was first filed for in 2012 and credits Farshid Hashimi as its inventor.


  • Reply 1 of 14
    chandra69chandra69 Posts: 638member

    Apple getting ready to see a case from Leap Motion and all.

  • Reply 2 of 14
    relicrelic Posts: 4,735member


    Originally Posted by Chandra69 View Post

    Apple getting ready to see a case from Leap Motion and all.

    Oh how cool, Leap Motion is looking pretty promising, I just pre-ordered one, thanks for the tip off.

  • Reply 3 of 14
    is it just me, or are these patents becoming more vague each time?
  • Reply 4 of 14
    phone-ui-guyphone-ui-guy Posts: 1,019member
    They need a better mechanism to allow scrolling around the thee 4K monitors on the MacPro. :) If they do this right, it should be very nice.
  • Reply 5 of 14
    asciiascii Posts: 5,936member
    Seems like the next logical evolution of the Magic Mouse: instead of just swiping and scrolling on the top surface you can control the pointer too.
  • Reply 6 of 14
    noelosnoelos Posts: 127member
    True dat. I used the trackpad every day and the Magic Mouse occasionally and often instinctively try to scroll around on the clickable surface of the mouse.
  • Reply 7 of 14
    crowleycrowley Posts: 10,453member

    How is this patentable?  Sandwiching existing things together is not a new idea.  A toaster-fridge is not a new idea.

  • Reply 8 of 14
    pinolopinolo Posts: 91member
    I would patent the motion through sensors of a cursor on screen. That way, when the iWatch comes out (if it ever does) one could control the computer with the iWatch...
  • Reply 9 of 14
    nairbnairb Posts: 253member


    Originally Posted by pinolo View Post

    I would patent the motion through sensors of a cursor on screen. That way, when the iWatch comes out (if it ever does) one could control the computer with the iWatch...

    You mean like this


  • Reply 10 of 14

    I would be willing to place money on the prospect of Apple eying up the Leap Motion company for acquisition. It seems such a natural fit for the way Apple do things. The device is already on my pre-order with Amazon...

  • Reply 11 of 14
    superbasssuperbass Posts: 688member
    Why would you ever need a touchpad combined with motion control?

    Couldn't the motion control be used to make any flat surface (tabletop, dinner plate, wall, pizza crust) have basically 100% of the apple trackpad's function?

    The xbox1 preview actually had a guy drawing on his coffee table and having it show up on screen very accurately, as their sensors have extremely precise 3-dimensional imaging.

    I could see if the motion control was inaccurate/badly implemented, but why not just drop the touchpad already? On the Macbook Pro, they should get rid of the trackpad and just add cameras to the sides of the screen for 3d motion control. They wouldn't need to be high resolution or particularly sensitive to the colour spectrum to make it work, either.

    That would make the entire lower half of the computer into one giant trackpad. That kind of function could be leveraged by software developers in tons of useful ways, and might even be cheaper and more reliable than the current trackpad. Pinch to zoom, tap to click, swiping and rotating gestures would all be maintained, and you could even add different functions for 1st, 2nd, 3rd 4th fingers since the cameras would be able to differentiate a lot more than the trackpad can.
  • Reply 12 of 14
    philboogiephilboogie Posts: 7,675member
    noelos wrote: »
    True dat. I used the trackpad every day and the Magic Mouse occasionally and often instinctively try to scroll around on the clickable surface of the mouse.

    After I got the Trackpad I put the Magic Mouse in the drawer, never to be used again.
  • Reply 13 of 14
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    As usual, when people see that a patent has an Apple logo, they immediately forget that a patent contains more than just it's title. (And more than just the AppleInsider quick overview.)
  • Reply 14 of 14
    I want "a thing" with sensors to detect what I'm thinking, my idea, and then translate it onscreen.
    That will be perfect for graphic design, writing, etc. I hope I'll live to experience that.
    Just sit down, thin about it and...puf!... there it is, on screen. click! Send it to client approval.
    Look! No hands!
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