Today, the United States Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent relating to unique finger-mounted devices that will make typing on a full-size virtual keyboard feel more natural. The fingers can be individual devices or part of a glove.
Lenovo once introduced a dual-display laptop with a keyless keyboard, as seen below, but has since canceled it because users didn’t like the feel of the virtual keyboard as a hard surface. Lenovo’s second screen allowed users to use the second screen as a keyboard or drawing tablet or even convert it into a 2-page e-book. But it was primarily marketed as a virtual keyboard and on that front it failed.
The patent issued by Apple technically notes that a user can provide input by tapping a finger on a touch input surface or other input surface. The input surface may be formed from a two-dimensional touch sensor overlapping a display of an electronic device. The electronic device and associated equipment such as a finger-mounted device may form a system for collecting pressure input from the user’s finger.
A sensor such as an optical proximity sensor or a capacitive proximity sensor can be used to monitor when the device mounted on the finger and a user’s finger in the device approaches the input surface of the electronic device. In response to sensing movement of the finger toward the entry surface, actuators in the finger-mounted device may compress the finger inward. This causes a pad portion of the finger to protrude outward toward the entry surface, thereby attenuating the impact between the finger and the entry surface.
The electronic device may also have an array of components that repel the finger-mounted device and/or finger in response to sensing movement of the finger toward the input surface. These components can produce a repulsive force using electrostatics, magnetic repulsion or attraction, ultrasonic output, and mechanical output. The components may, for example, include an array of electromagnetics overlapping the input surface that magnetically repel a component such as a permanent magnet in the finger-mounted device.
Apple’s patent FIG. 13 shown below shows how the housing of finger mounted device 26A can wrap under the fingertip (#10) while leaving the fingernail (#18) exposed. The finger mounted devices can be worn individually or a glove accessory can be used with the integrated finger mounted devices.
Apple’s patent FIG. 14 is a diagram of a user’s finger with an optional finger-mounted device and associated electronic device in a system.
Introducing a virtual keyboard is a long-standing research project at Apple. Bypassing the stiffness of a second screen that doubles as a virtual keyboard was mentioned in a patent report we published earlier this month that related to a possible future alternative keyboard accessory for the iPad in which Apple noted that the accessory could provide a virtual keyboard with a softer surface than that of the iPad’s virtual keyboard which is hard on a user’s fingers.
The patent issued today for the finger devices is the second patent granted by Apple, the first granted in 2018. Apple has added 18 new patent claims to its original patent to better protect it from patent trolls and competitors. Below are some of the new patent claims.
- An electronic device configured to be worn on a finger of a user when the finger is moved toward a surface, the finger having a fingertip with a nail, a finger pad, and side portions that extend from the nail to the finger pad, the electronic device device comprising: a body configured to be coupled to the finger, wherein the body has a movable part; control circuits; a plurality of body-coupled vibrators that are configured to be selectively activated by the control circuit to apply feedback to selected portions of only one of the side portions of the finger; and a component that is configured to apply additional feedback to the finger by moving the movable part toward the finger.
- An electronic device as defined in claim 2, wherein the actuator is selected from the group consisting of: an electromagnetic actuator, a motor, a piezoelectric actuator, an electroactive polymer actuator, a vibrator, a linear actuator, a rotary actuator and an actuator which bends a flexible limb.
- A finger-mounted device according to claim 11, wherein the plurality of actuators are configured to squeeze the finger to varying degrees as the the finger is moved over a surface to create a feeling of texture.
To review the full patent and 13 other new patent claims, see patent 11,442,615 issued by Apple. Obviously, Apple has covered a wide range of patents relating to wearable rings, devices and gloves in our “Accessories” archive which you can view here.