Apple's latest iPen patent is for modular, super-smart stylus

Apple's latest iPen patent is for modular, super-smart stylus

Summary: Recent patent applications by Apple cover features for what reportedly be its iPen smart stylus, including a modular device that will let users add the right tool for the job at hand.


According to a post this weekend by Jack Purcher at the Patently Apple blog, Apple last week applied for patents covering a modular, super-stylus that can be outfitted with different tops designed for the task at hand, including an audio recorder, laser pointer or tiny, personal projector. This is all a part of Cupertino's reported iPen device project.

The concepts an Apple-branded, wearable computing device keeps expanding (and so do the rumors). One day it's a wristband watch product, and another, a sylus that clips in the pocket. Cupertino's patent applications keep fueling the market's imagination. Patently Apple reported that it counts 22 patents for a smart stylus device.

Apple's latest iPen patent is for modular, super-smart stylus
Image from Apple Inc.


In the latest patent, each of the device's expansion modules could include one or more of a power source, camera, audio recorder, communication circuit, gyroscope, accelerometer, laser pointer, projector, or the like.

Apple states that the projector module could be used to display an image on a surface and to allow a user to edit a document by moving the stylus across the projected image. Alternatively, the projector could be included within the base module.

Since the device is smart (and can connect wirelessly to an iOS device or computer), it can do all sorts of useful things. It will be able to detect motion and direction, letting the projector compensate for changes in height or in its relationship to the projection surface.

The system will include audio recording and a camera. The audio can be sent back to a receiving iOS or computer via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or even cellular technologies, the patent application says.

Of course, the smart stylus could be used as, well, a stylus. Go figure. However, the patent states that the stylus also could also capture what it calls "air gestures."

Apple notes in their patent filing that the gyro/accelerometer could also be used to detect motion in the form of stylus based air gestures. For example, a sweeping motion of the stylus would be able to be detected by the gyro/accelerometer and transmitted to a remote touch sensitive device. The in-air gestures made with the use of the stylus would be acknowledged as an input that could, for example, translate to a command of turning a page of a manual or book or to transition one presentation slide to the next. Apple also notes that in-air gestures could also act as a mouse replacement in certain instances.

This is all interesting speculation. A patent application, or 22 of them, doesn't have to result in a product. We will see how it plays out, or even whether it plays out, in a shipping iPen.

The stylus has had a troubled history in Cupertino. Steve Jobs was down on the stylus from the very beginnings of iOS. At the launch of the first iPhone he said:

"How are we going to communicate with this? We don't want to carry around a mouse? Oh, a stylus, right? We're going to use a stylus. No! Who wants a stylus? You have to get them, put them away, and you lose them. Yech! Nobody wants a stylus. So, let's not use a stylus.

We're going to use the best pointing device in the world. We're going to use a pointing device we're all born with — we're born with 10 of them — we're going to use our fingers."

This was mostly positioning of the iPhone vs. the other tablets and PIMs on the market that required a stylus to operate. Jobs was railing against the ordinary, dumb stylus. Certainly, the smart variety is a different matter, for a different time.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Mobility

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  • That's ironic that Apple is going to make a stylus

    First, it's ironic because it sounds like Windows Mobile. Microsoft's old Windows Mobile was the operating system that failed because it required users to hold a stylus pen to use their phones.

    Second, Apple was the company credited with introducing the first commercially successful finger-touch interface, which killed off Windows Mobile.

    So it is very ironic that Apple is thinking of going back to the stylus pen.

    However, it may not be for phones. It is now obvious that ARM processors will take over the "desktop". It doesn't take much intelligence to realize that Apple will already be well on the way to designing its future "desktop" OS (for lack of a better word, as it may not have a desktop metaphor) that runs on ARM processors. You could think of this as a merger with OS X and iOS.

    A version of OS X (it'll probably get a name change) that runs on ARM will also need a new interface. Here's where the adaptable stylus comes in.
    • Don't forget...

      that Apple also said nobody would want to watch video on an iPod sized device and they would never release such a device... Then came the video iPod, the iPhone and iPod Touch.

      They also ridiculed 7" - 8" tablets as being too small to use, you would need to file your fingers to a point to be able to use it! This is a product category that Apple would not enter... Until they launched the iPad mini...
      • But Steve jobs said...

        In the 2007 keynote for the first iPhone Steve Jobs made fun of the stulys and said that it was stupid. Then later he said that the iPhone was great...

        Was it all lies?
        • Steve Jobs is dead

          And before he died, advised Tim Cook never to play the "what would Steve do?" game.

          So let's not read too much into what Jobs would or would not approve of. Ford doesn't check in with Henry much anymore either.
      • In other words, Apple is willing to adapt

        to customer demand. Yet, somehow that's a bad thing and it would be better if they were pigheaded stubborn and told the customer to just go to hell; we're doing it like this: deal with it. Oh. Wait. That would be Microsoft with Windows 8 and before that the Ribbon.
    • Vbitrate

      Nothing to do with Windows Mobile.

      Before Windows Mobile (2000) ever existed there was Apple Newton (1993) with a stylus!
  • iPen

    A $50 stylus made in china. Magical.
    Sean Foley
  • Outrageous Apple Arrogance!

    Quick! Somebody file a patent for a teleportation device before Apple does and sues anybody who actually makes it work!
  • Mac say Mac do

    One should learn at least one thing: What somebody from Apple says in the the media does not have anything to do with what is in the pipeline. Maybe there is an iOSX right behind the corner or maybe not. Maybe you have a stylus that doubles as a phone headset. Maybe this and maybe that but most certainly something else than what they had let understand.
    • Or maybe nothing at all

      Apple has patented a few things that have never seen the light of day. We can judge this thing if it ever arrives, which it may never.
  • Stylus is the only way to do whiteboards

    Whiteboards remain an important tool for planning and design. As we move into more collaborative team work, across offices, teams need a low cost digital whiteboard. A tablet is that tool. There are some android software/pen combinations that use wacom pen technology and behave like pen on paper (or marker on whiteboard).
    iPad is totally unusable in this domain due to the low tech stylus technology. The so called "smart" pens, don't work well.
    The Wacom digitizer/stylus sets the standard, but the Android Companion tablet alone is crazy expensive. Apple needs a decent whiteboard experience to keep customers since Android apps are more than good enough in many tablet software/functional categories. Better hurry ....
  • Idiots at the PO abound.

    Until they get rid of the imbeciles at the patent office it would not be unrealistic to think they these idiots would give someone a patent for the name Candy.