New Apple patents show 'iPen' stylus for iPad, iPhone

The iPen could use haptic or optical technology for improved user experience

Apple has filed new patent applications for a stylus, dubbed the iPen, which will work with the company's iOS devices.

The US Patent and Trademark Office published the applications on Thursday, which detail plans for a new stylus being designed by Apple for its touchscreen devices.

Patently Apple reports that one of Apple's new patent filings shows that the company is thinking of creating a stylus that uses haptics, a technology that Apple has filed patents for before. The advanced haptics in the iPen would allow the user to feel brush strokes, line thicknesses and more.

"An input device capable of generating haptic feedback may help a user navigate content displayed on the display screen, and may further serve to enhance content of various applications by creating a more appealing and realistic user interface," reads the patent's background description. "Haptic feedback may be any tactile feedback. Examples include forces, vibrations, and/or motions that may be sensed by the user."

"Haptic feedback may confirm the user's selection of a particular item, such as a virtual icon or a button, or may be provided when the user's iPen is positioned over a selectable item," says Patently Apple in its report. "The iPen may also provide a haptic output when the device is over, near or passes the boundary of a window or application shown on a display, or when the device is over, near or passes a graphic item having a particular texture."

Haptics in the stylus could also be used in gaming, says Apple. When playing a multiplayer game, the actions of one user could cause another user's pen to emit particular haptic output.

Apple's invention could be configured to interface with a touch-based user interface device such as a touchscreen, says the patent summary. The tip of the device could be pointed, blunt, or configured as a ball that rolls along the touchscreen surface.

Apple describes that the stylus could have orientation sensors that can detect when the iPen rotates allowing thinner or thicker lines, darker or lighter marks, for example. The sensors could also be used to change the volume of the touchscreen device, for example.

Apple has also designed the iPen to have a mini-speaker built-in, which will give the user audio feedback.

Patently Apple explains that the iPen could be used in conjunction with Apple's own new graphics editing program, which may be similar to Autodesk's Sketchbook for example.

A second stylus patent filed for by Apple describes an optical pen that uses a camera, for example, to determine the movement and location of the stylus in relation to a touchscreen. This device could have a pointed tip for precision input to improve writing on an iPad, for example.

Both patents were filed by Apple in November 2010.

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Ashleigh Allsopp

Macworld U.K.
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