The Stack Archive

Apple explores texture and temperature haptics for touchpads

Tue 19 Apr 2016

Apple has been granted a patent for a technology which would allow touchpads and touch sensitive devices to mimic textures and temperature, simulating surfaces such as cool metals and even hot cement.

First filed in 2013, Touch Surface for Simulating Materials’ was published today in a series of 62 Apple patents granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and details touch capabilities such as vibration and temperature control.

The paper explains that an actuator would enable the surface to vibrate and mimic tactile sensations of various textures – rougher surfaces for example would be simulated by stronger vibrations. The vibrations respond to finger movement over the touch surface, and can be varied over time as the finger moves across the screen, allowing for the simulation of wood grain and other mixed-texture, irregular materials.

Working alongside the actuator, a temperature control device can change the heating and cooling of the glass touch surface. The patent explains that a layer of diamond material built into the touchpad allows for an extremely high level of thermal conductivity, as well as impressive water resistance and optical transparency.

It is unclear when, if ever, this technology will be incorporated into Apple systems, but the new patent marks a renewed buzz around haptics for the tech giant. In 2012, the company introduced a multi-tiered touch system for OLED screens and today’s granted advancement builds on that innovation. Again in 2012, Apple was rumoured to be launching its third-generation iPad with electrostatic haptic feedback, which never surfaced.

More recently, the Cupertino-based company filed a new patent for a ‘Configurable Force-Sensitive Input Structure for Electronic Devices.’ The proposal describes a tactile touchpad keyboard with virtual keys for laptop devices. The system would comprise of a type of metal ‘3D touch’ contact layer with the ability to sense touches, as well as the strength of the force applied.

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