A trio of Apple patent applications unearthed this morning may help shed some light on future features and functionality headed to a new crop of iPhones. Then again we all know how easy it is for patents to lead absolutely nowhere. The first and most notable of the bunch is a haptic feedback concept employing a “grid of piezoelectronic actuators” that combine to form a fully tactile touchscreen. In theory, the device could vibrate these actuators in different combinations and at different frequencies to provide a variety of tactile responses. Interesting as it may be, this isn’t the first apple patent to cover a haptic feedback solution for a touchscreen — another notable concept came in late 2007 and has yet to bear fruit. At the same time, it’s good to see that Apple recognizes the downsides of touchscreen-only devices and is working on creative solutions for the problem. From the application:
However, one of a touchscreen’s biggest advantages (i.e., the ability to utilize the same physical space for different functions) is also one of a touchscreen’s biggest disadvantages. When the user is unable to view the display (because the user is occupied with other tasks), the user can only feel the smooth hard surface of the touchscreen, regardless of the shape, size and location of the virtual buttons and/or other display elements. This makes it difficult for users to find icons, hyperlinks, textboxes or other user-selectable input elements that are being displayed, if any are even being displayed, without looking at the display.
The other two patents covered this morning are also of interest, the second covering fingerprint identification as an input method. This concept also addresses the usage of a touchscreen without the need to look at it during operation — providing a system whereby a device will be able to identify different fingers by fingerprint and the mere touch with a specific finger will result in a corresponding function. In other words, while in a certain mode an iPhone might perform the following functions when touched anywhere by the following fingers:
Last up this morning is an application that places an RFID tag reader in the actual display panel of a device, allowing it to read RFID tags. We’re not sure exactly how a device will benefit from having the RFID antenna in the screen as opposed to in another area of the case but hey, patent attorneys need something to do on slow days, too.