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Saturday, November 24, 2007, 10:40 am PT (01:40 pm ET)

Apple aims to patent ergonomic, full-hand multi-touch input

Three patent filings set into motion by Apple just a month after the iPhone's US debut open the door to curved multi-touch surfaces that can recognize more than just fingertips.

Pieced together through US-based patents for a sensor layout as well as those for mobile sensors and compliant conductors, the collective technology uses improved touch input nodes that are accurate enough to create a sensor image of different parts of the hand while not being bound to any particular size, shape, or resolution.

This will let a given multi-touch device not just recognize more complicated gestures, such as grabbing or swiping motions with one or more fingers, but also selectively disable input depending on the immediate context. Typists could leave their palms on a touch-sensitive device without activating controls while gaining the palm rest area back for other functions when necessary, or cease moving a cursor when a finger comes to a complete stop.

A version of the technology with pressure sensitivity could also exploit this ability to recognize rolling, tilting, or twisting motions for manipulating content in 3D, Apple explains in the patents.

But because the touch controls would not have to be flat, the combination of these advancements could lead to particularly unique designs. One concept explained in the filings would have a curved surface designed to be ergonomic over long periods, such as with a keyboard. It could also detect when a user is drawing with a stylus through both the inner fingers and the movement of the palm.

Patent Example


The patents are not connected to any existing product design from the Cupertino, California-based firm, whose iPhone and iPod touch, or any future handhelds, are unlikely to benefit from the advancement. Instead, the notion of a hand-sensitive, curved controller is intended primarily as a "computer input device" that may eventually replace both a keyboard and mouse.