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Thursday, May 03, 2012, 07:35 am PT (10:35 am ET)

Apple shows continued interest in haptic touchscreen fingertip feedback

Future iPhones and iPads from Apple could feature advanced technology that would allow users to not only touch the screen, but also feel textures and other feedback on their fingertips.

Apple has shown interest over the years in making touchscreens more immersive and responsive to users with haptic feedback. In March, it was even suggested that Apple had been in contact with a company called Senseg, which sells technology that uses electric fields to simulate complex, context-sensitive textures on a touchscreen device.

A newly published patent application from Apple, and discovered by AppleInsider, aims to offer the same ability to make a touchscreen feel smooth, rough or otherwise, but through different methods. The proposed invention, entitled "Methods and Systems for Providing Haptic Control," features a tiered haptic system that would be formed by stacking haptic elements.

"One or more arrays of shape change elements such as, for example, piezoelectric elements may be used to actuate a screen surface," the filing reads. "Arrays may also be used to sense tactile interactions and stimuli on a screen surface.

"An embedded haptic system may be formed by inserting haptic elements into a contoured elastic sheet. The embedded haptic system may provide tactile interactions to a user. In some embodiments, both tiered and haptic arrangements may be used."

Patent 1


Apple's filing notes that tactile feedback systems allow users to ability to interact with a system on a deeper level than just using a simple touchscreen. Haptic feedback is most commonly found in video games, where console controllers will "rumble" in response to an event in the game.

But Apple's "layered" solution would go beyond simple vibration, and would also offer shape changes that would contour a flat surface. In this way, the touchscreen of an iPhone or iPad could physically move and allow users to feel certain textures on their fingertips when they touch the screen.

The latest application isn't the first time Apple has shown detailed interest in advanced haptic feedback technology. In March, AppleInsider was also the first to report on a similar patent application that described using piezoelectric actuators for "localized haptic feedback," allowing users to feel a virtual button on their fingertips.

Patent 2


n 2010, Apple also filed a patent application for what it called a "multi-haptic" system that would detect multi-touch gestures and provide a number of physical feedback responses accordingly. And in 2009, before the iPad was announced, one application described a tablet-style device with a dynamic surface that would give users tactile feedback when typing in order to identify individual keys on their fingertips.

The latest proposed haptic feedback invention from Apple, published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed in October of 2011. It is credited to Michael D. Lampell, Francois-Yves Bertrand, Alan Berfield, Leo Lee, and Eric Snider.