Apple patent involves multiple ‘force inputs into an electronic device’

Future iPhones, iPad, and Magic Touchpads for the Mac may be able to perform specific actions based on how much pressure is applied to certain areas of their touchscreens. Apple has filed for a patent (number 10,162,447) for “detecting multiple simultaneous force inputs to an input device.”

In the patent filing, the tech giant notes that a user can interact with an interface on an electronic device through a touch-sensitive input device such as a trackpad or touch screen. For example, a personal computer can receive a command from a trackpad when an object comes into contact with the trackpad and in response, the personal computer can perform a task, such as modifying a user interface element. 

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In some examples, a touch-sensitive input device can include a force sensor to provide force information to an electronic device that further characterizes a touch input event. For example, some input devices can estimate an amount of force applied during a touch event, and can relay that information to an electronic device. The electronic device may then interpret the force information from the force sensor as a command, performing different tasks in response to different magnitudes of applied force. 

However, Apple, notes that, in many cases, however, force information provided by a force sensor associated with a conventional touch-sensitive input device may become “unreliably imprecise or inaccurate if the input device receives more than one force at the same time.” For example, if a user rests his or her wrist at one location while applying a force with a finger at another location, the touch-sensitive input device may not accurately register the force applied by the user's finger. 

In these and other examples, a user may become confused or frustrated when an electronic device does not respond to a force input in the manner the user expects. For these reasons, Apple says there’s a need for an improved force-sensitive input device capable to detect and relay a proportional force applied at more than one contact location. 

Here’s Apple’s summary of the invention: “The input device can include a contact (e.g., touch) sensor and a plurality of force sensors. By combining the information from a multi-touch event with information from each of the plurality of force sensors, a contact centroid and a force centroid can be determined. Thereafter, by projecting a vector defining the force applied to the input device onto a vector defined between the contact centroid and an individual contact location, a magnitude of force applied at that contact location can be approximated.”

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.