In my recent story on the Apple iSlate speculation, I pointed to Windows tablets to make the point that Steve Jobs and company don't invent things, they perfect them. But when I wrote that Apple doesn't have any tablet patents, a reader noted that what Apple does have is multi-touch interface patents. And those will be the key to the Apple tablet.An example which highlights the technological sophistication Apple is bringing to the tablet party is patent application number 20090273570, filed in November under the title of "Multi-Touch Sensor Patterns And Stack-Ups." This application sets forth a sophisticated multi-touch sensor panel, which can be produced in an ultra-thin or even a curved format. Having the rights to such technology should give Apple a big leg up in producing future devices with form factors that go beyond the standard tablet rectangle. Another example comes via a patent application Apple filed in July, for an " Multi-touch display screen with localized tactile feedback " (application number 20090167704). As the name implies, it's a way for a touch screen to give the user a little zing, to make it easier to operate without having to look at it all the time. (Texting while driving, anyone?) "Multi-Touch Input Discrimination" (number 20080158185) is another interesting application. From the abstract: "Techniques for identifying and discriminating between different types of contacts to a multi-touch touch-screen device.. . Illustrative contact types include fingertips, thumbs, palms and cheeks. By way of example, thumb contacts may be distinguished from fingertip contacts using a patch eccentricity parameter."
On the awarded-patent front, a USPTO search turns up "Multi-touch system and method for emulating modifier keys via fingertip chords." (Patent RE40,153, awarded March, 2008.) However, this is an older patent, filed in 2005, which seems related to traditional keyboard technology, not touch pads.
The above is but a quick sampling of what Apple has been up to; I'll keep posting as I learn of more stuff. Here's a detail from one of the Apple patent applications. (When you enlarge it, click both forward and back to see more patent info, including info from my earlier story.)
Apple patent application for "Multi-Touch Sensor Patterns And Stack-Ups." (Click picture to enlarge, and to see more.)
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Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.
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