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Tuesday, February 19, 2008, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Apple filing spills details of advanced multi-touch pads for Macs

A new and ambitious patent filing from Apple hints that the Mac maker is working to extend an advanced version of its multi-touch technology to future notebook trackpads that would include gesture concepts well beyond what is presently available on its handheld and MacBook Air products.

The January 2007 filing, dug up overnight by MacRumors, is titled "Gesturing with a multipoint sensing device" and lists among its inventors Wayne Westerman of Fingerworks, a company absorbed by Apple several years ago as part of its quest to deliver iPhone and a new generation of input devices.

Of particular interest are several drawings and descriptions of a new Mac OS X "Gesture Control Panel" nestled deep within the 72-page filing. The panel is split three-way, offering a distinct set of customizable options for "Standard," "Basic," and "Advanced" multi-touch operations.

Listed as part of the "Advanced" panel are several pre-defined multi-touch gesture sets for operations not yet supported by Apple's iPhone, iPod touch, or MacBook Air offerings. Among them are gestures for file operations, editing operations, and Web browser operations (detailed with drawings and descriptions below).

For example, Apple explains that by using a combination of the thumb and two other fingers, users of the advanced multi-touch trackpad technology would be able to invoke commands for copy, paste, cut, redo, and select all. Similarly, by using the thumb and just one other finger, users would be able to create new files or open, save and close existing ones.

Though not illustrated in the included drawings, Apple in the filing also discusses several potential uses for the pinky finger as part of its Mac-based multi-touch technology because it produces a long (highly eccentric) horizontal contact patch distinct from all other contacts with the possible exception of a flattened thumb.

Advanced Multi-touch


"Side pinky swipe may be useful for simple control gestures like volume up/down, sleep, screen saver, etc. The side pinky swipe has the simplicity of single finger touch while being recognizably distinct from normal 1 fingertip pointing/clicking," the company explained. "It is also very ergonomic because while touching with side of pinky, the thumb is pointing straight up into the air. This is the most neutral comfortable of all wrist positions."

Introduced last month at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, the MacBook Air stands as the first Mac to support "Basic" multi-touch gestures. AppleInsider later revealed that Apple's other notebooks — the MacBook and MacBook Pro — would soon join the Air in supporting the technology, beginning with a refresh to the MacBook Pro line due later this month.

It's presently unclear when Apple will be ready to deploy its software for "Advanced" gestures, but those Mac systems supporting the Basic gestures include a Broadcom multi-touch chip. The presence of that chip should allow owners to take full advantage of the Advanced gestures through a software upgrade. Current MacBook and MacBook Pro owners, however, are unlikely gain access to the technology due to the lack of supporting hardware.

Joining Westerman in the credits to the aforementioned patent filing are Apple software and interface engineers Steven Hotelling, Myra Haggerty, Bas Ording, Nima Parivar, and Duncan Robert Kerr.

Advanced Multi-touch


Expose & Dashboard
Swiping 4 fingers up, down, left or right to:
  • Expose all
  • Expose Desktop
  • Trigger Dashboard
  • Expose applications

Advanced Multi-touch


Primary Click & Drag
Swiping 3 fingers up, down, left, right or diagonally to:
  • Drag up
  • Drag right
  • Drag down
  • Drag left
  • Drag diagonally

Advanced Multi-touch


File Operations
Using movement of the thumb and 1 other finger to:
  • Open
  • Close
  • New
  • Save

Advanced Multi-touch


Editing Operations
Using movement of the thumb and 2 other fingers to:
  • Cancel
  • Undo
  • Paste
  • Tab
  • Select all
  • Redo
  • Cut
  • Back tab
  • Copy

Advanced Multi-touch


Web Browser Operations
  • Stop
  • Spotlight
  • Forward
  • Bookmark
  • Refresh
  • Find
  • Back
  • Home
  • Command