Apple invents texture-sensing stylus for future iPads

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Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 14.35.16
This stylus would add new meaning to the word touchscreen.
Photo: USPTO/Apple

Steve Jobs was famously opposed to including a stylus with the iPad, but even he might have changed his mind had he caught a glimpse of the futuristic texture-sensing input device Apple just patented.

According to a pair of patent applications published today, Apple is working on stylus with in-built camera which would allow it to detect the surface over which it is passed and reproduce these textures for the user — even down to replicating the feel of different fabrics.

Haptic feedback works by modulating the friction forces between a user’s finger and the source of the haptic feedback by modifying the level of voltage. Although it has been investigated by various researchers for at least 50 years, it is only in recent years when we have started to see advanced haptics live up to their potential, with groups like Disney Research investigating the the possibilities of the technology for large table-top tablet displays in its theme parks.

Many tech companies have been working on incorporating haptics into their devices, but the kind of fine-grain technology Apple is discussing here is unlike anything I’m aware of in a present-day stylus.

This pen really would be mightier than the sword.
This pen really would be mightier than the sword.
Photo: Apple

As Apple points out, the tech would have applications which go way beyond simple gimmicks. For instance, a visually impaired person could use a stylus like this to be able to feel an image on-screen, much like Braille is used to read text. Given how much work Apple has done for accessibility in the past, this would seem like a natural move for the company to make.

Another possibility would be in the gaming arena, which is a source of profitability for many companies working to create mobile devices.

It should be noted that Apple has been looking into haptics at least as far back as 2011, meaning that this might not be a technology we see roll out any time soon.

Then again, with Apple under pressure to reinvent the iPad after yet another quarter of falling sales and market share, this would certainly be the kind of thing that would get me to put down my money.

Can you see the potential of haptic feedback? Leave your comments below.

Source: USPTO (also here)

Via: Patently Apple