Did Microsoft beat Apple to dual-sided touch technology?

Did Microsoft beat Apple to dual-sided touch technology?

Summary: A recently disclosed Apple patent describes a number of devices using a two-sided touch panel and to no surprise, the speculation online begins. However, some of the imaginings sound like technology that Microsoft has shown before.


Did Microsoft beat Apple to dual-sided touch technology?A recently disclosed Apple patent describes a number of devices using a two-sided touch panel and to no surprise, the speculation online begins. With a patent that describes "embodiments" of a technology, the dreams can go anywhere, it appears.

However, in some of these embodiments, Microsoft appears to have been there first!

Unwired View posted the Dual-sided Track Pad patent document and an accompanying piece with imaginative description of iPhones and MacBook tablets using the technology (with illustrations, even).

Here's a bit from the patent's technology summary:

The capacitive array element may be a dual-sided panel that is capable of sensing touch from either side and sending signals indicative of the touches to a host device (e.g. a desktop computer, a laptop computer, a digital music player or a mobile telephone unit). The capacitive array element may be able to sense multiple simultaneous touches and distinguish on which side the touches occur. A connected processor unit, either in the device or in the host system, may be adapted to interpret the signals as a cursor or view movement with six degrees of freedom.

In some embodiments, the track pad device includes a display element and the capacitive array element is translucent. The display element and the array element may be configured with respect to each other, possibly including a configuration where the array lies over the display screen so that the display screen is viewable through the array element, in effect forming a touch screen. The device may have a touch screen mode of use activated by the device's being configured with the array element over the display screen, which allows a one-to-one correspondence between the array element and the display screen. The device may interpret and respond to the signals from the the array element in a configurable way.

As long as it's configurable! Whew, I was worried there. This patent is tough reading. (And am I the only one who's worried about patents that call expressions of a technology, "embodiments?")

The Unwired View article takes the patent device and imagines a number of "expressions" of its own, including a iPod nano-sized iPhone with a clamshell input pad, a Mac tablet notebook with a virtualized keyboard, and a standard notebook with a clear trackpad that makes a porthole (more of a port-square, really), letting users see a section of the screen when the lid is closed.

The authors seem to think there's a great demand for a clamshell form-factor about the size of an iPod nano, that's really, really small and even harder to type upon than the current iPhone. Is that what we want? I find the current iPhone touch form factor is usable by folks with small and big paws alike.

Some of the "expressions" described in the article sound familiar because they have been sighted at Microsoft's show-and-tell technology fairs.

The first is Windows Slideshow, a feature of Windows Vista. It can display information from a notebook even when the system is turned off or sleeping. The information is held in a small RAM cache and displayed on a secondary display — or it would if a notebook maker would make such a machine.

It would be high irony if Apple shipped a notebook with something like Slideshow, albeit done very differently, before Microsoft's cost-conscious technology partners — every other PC maker besides Apple — got around to implementing Slideshow.

The two-sided touch concept reminded me of a Microsoft technology demonstration last summer. Created with the Mitsubishi Electronics Research Laboratory, the technology is called LucidTouch. A video is available on the MERL site.

The idea here is that you can't really see what's under your fingers. By accepting input from both sides and then displaying digital images of the fingers under a map (with active points on the fingertips), users can see more of the map and interact with it in a rich way.

Here's a bit from MERL's technical introduction:

Many direct touch input devices provide only two input states: out-of-range and dragging, the assumption being that the user's finger or stylus provides feedback in order to anticipate the point of interaction. When the hands are behind the display, this visual tracking is not possible. Our pseudo-transparency approach allows users to see their hands as they are attempting to acquire a target from the back of the device, thus solving not only the occlusion problem, but also the lack of tracking feedback. In order to overcome the fat finger problem, simple computer-vision techniques are applied, allowing each finger's touch points to be visualised prior to making contact with the touchpad. As a result, LucidTouch enables fast and intuitive land-on selection, in contrast to the take-off selection techniques other opaque devices employ.

It looks interesting. And wacky.

All of this, from the imaginings from the Apple patent to Microsoft's LucidTouch, sounds very complicated to me. Reliability in mobile computing is very important to usability and these schemes may have the potential to bring a new high score for electro-mechanical points-of-failure.

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Laptops, Legal, Mobility

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  • SideShow

    It's not Windows Slideshow - it's Windows SideShow
  • RE: Did Microsoft beat Apple to dual-sided touch technology?

  • You misunderstand Apple's patent...

    The way I read it, it's nothing like the Microsoft examples
    you mentioned.

    Picture a clamshell laptop, with one half transparent.
    Closed, it would look like a tablet computer. The screen
    facing you (let's call it side A) would act like a touch screen
    by finger or stylus.

    Now picture this. You open the clamshell and rest it on
    your desk like a traditional laptop. But now, things have
    changed. The screen that is now perpendicular to the desk
    acts like a normal display, but the transparent part of the
    other half (side B), which is resting on your desk facing up,
    has now turned into a virtual, full sized keyboard, or touch
    input device; or secondary display, depending what you
    want it to be.

    This is light years ahead of the current, bulky tablet
    computers that have to have their displays rotated and
    twisted to fall flat on the real keyboard.

    That is how I understand the documentation and diagrams
    of Apple's patent. If anyone has further insight, please
    • Light years, huh?

      Yeah, not really:


      Somebody didn't research first. Oops.

      Two-sided, transparent touch screen devices already exist. And Microsoft built them with Mitsubishi. Six months ago it was [i]reviewed[/i]. Read the paper they published on the topic.

      Or, go straight to the horse's mouth. Simply Google "LucidTouch." Dive in and enjoy.

      The real difference is that at the moment it's simulated transparency. The concept, however, seems extremely similar.

      More to the point - why does it matter who made it first? Does that prevent people from benefitting from a useable device?
      • I think that..

        these are really two different things.

        The LucidTouch simulates transparency so that the user
        can interact with the device on either side, yet the two
        sides are identical. As I understand it, there would be an
        'enter' button, for example, and it could be pressed using
        a hand on either side of the device.

        The Apple patent is different in that, when folded, the
        transparent piece is identical to the underlying device, yet
        when unfolded, is completely different, and, despite its
        transparency, provides a second screen completely
        independent of the first one.

        I think they're two different devices, trying to solve two
        different issues.
        • Same technology, different application

          It's the same underlying technology. Apple's idea would just implement it differently.
          That implementation would be controlled by software and has nothing to do with the concept of a two-sided panel.
          • Different technology.

            To quote from the link laura.b helpfully provided:

            "...by overlaying an image of the user?s hands onto the
            screen, we create the illusion of the mobile device itself
            being semitransparent."
          • It's the same thing...

            The underlying technology is a panel that can receive inputs from either side.

            On the Lucid Touch it's not see-through because the touch-panel is stacked on top of other panels. It doesn't need to be see-through in that application. The Apple "concept" described on the link from the blog is someone's [b]interpretation[/b] of what Apple's [b]implementation[/b] of the concept [b]might[/b] look like.

            A difference might lie on whether a translucent touch sensitive panel is somehow technologically different than an opaque one beyond aesthetics. But you don't really know that. And unless you show some proof of that technological difference then you can't say Apple has come up with a different technology. You can't use that cartoon as proof that it is somehow technologically different than what's already been shown with the LucidTouch; it is only a cartoon and shows none of the underlying tech that goes into it being a real device.
          • What does "similar" mean to you?

            To me, and Webster, it means having characteristics in common, alike in substance and essentials.

            I said similar. I did not say they were the same. But to claim that one is light years ahead of the other when they are obviously [b]very[/b] similar is just silly.

            Since everyone missed the point, I'll ask again - who gives a sh*t who makes it?
          • I wasn't responding to your post...

            which I pretty much agree with. I was responding to tikigawd,
            who stated that they were the same technology.

            The results seem to be similar, but the technology seems to
            be different (if by technology you mean [i]how[/i] they
            achieve the result).

            Further, I agree completely with your last comment: "who
            gives a sh*t who makes it?"
          • Who gives a shizz?

            Not I.
            I just like to engage in pointless, random conversations every one in a while to pass the time.

            That, and I like to give credit where credit is due.
          • @msalzburg

            Yeah, you kind of were (but I wasn't griping, you know). Since it all started with a response to my post that they were "really two different devices to solve different issues."


            I disagree.

            But that is, again, not really the point. I wasn't trying to claim that you were disagreeing with me or I you, more trying to pull the thread back to "who cares" regarding the manufacturer? This platform war garbage is totally stupid, and pulling crap like "you don't understand that Apple is different because...." and "Microsoft made it first..." or whatever is only preventing people from really getting the opportunity to use the technology that is best for them because of their preconceived biases toward particular companies or their trust in misinformation.

            Which is why I chose to reply to the OP in the first place. Well, half-why, I suppose: A) No, this tech is not much different (possibly not at all different, since there is no example of the patent app that can be compared to the LucidTouch device) than what the author was discussing in the first place, and the OP clearly thought he was referring to Tablet PCs, which are in fact no where near the same thing, and B) it doesn't matter who made it, or who made it first, at all.

            The question shouldn't be "who made it first?" It should be "when will it be available to end users?" Frankly, until it's on a shelf at Walmart (or whereever) with a price tag and a limited warranty, it doesn't matter because no one benefits from it until they can buy and use one.

            Actually, instead of asking who made it first, we should be asking why ZDNet didn't cover something so innovative back in August when everyone else did. I enjoy tech. I'm a nerd, and I'm cool with that. The constant flaming and platform wars are wearisome. Can't even check up on new and interesting gadgetry and check out some user opinions without being subjected to the idiocy.

            Well, I'll get off my soapbox now and leave you to your business. I think I'll polish the whole thing off with this:

            Not much of this matters to me anyway. I can't stand touch screens. I'm not alone in that assertion, so please, Bill, Steve, Linus...don't forget that. Keyboards, dudes. Keep making keyboards [i]too[/i].

            Have a great day! :)

          • @laura.b

            That was a rant? Your rants are more reasonable than
            most poster's reasoned arguments!

            I fully agree - I don't care who makes what. I use what I
            prefer to use. Several years ago I specifically started to
            use cross-platform apps so that I could work with Macs
            and Windows. I don't run OSs, I run applications.

            I am comfortable with either platform, and think the bull
            spouted by both 'camps' is a big waste of bandwidth.
    • Light years is a measure of distance, not time (nt)

      • "Re: "Light years is (sic) a measure of distance, not time (nt)"

        Sorry, tikigawd, but the term "Light-year" may show either a measure of distance or a measure of Time.


        Our local star (Sol), around which all the planetary bodies in this Solar system revolve, is 93,000,000 miles away.

        How long do you think a stream of light particles takes to go from Sol to the Earth? The answer can be expressed either as a measure of absolute TIME (i.e., "so many seconds, minutes, hours, or days"), or a measure of the number of clock-ticks that light-particle takes to travel the DISTANCE from the Sun to the Earth at the RATE of 186,234 miles/second (the velocity of light, which is immutable)

        So the Light of the stars we see in the night sky ACTUALLY LEFT its source (a particular star, so many miles away) in the PAST. That is, the LIGHT WE SEE IS NOT the LIGHT of the PRESENT, but the light of the PAST, since Light only travels at a set pace (186,234 mile/second square.) Additionally, the stars are ALL a MINIMUM of 4 light-years (distance) from us, since the light we observe LEFT its source the number of years a particle of light would take to travel (time) that distance.

        i.e., we are looking into the PAST when we look up into the Night Sky, NOT the Present.

        So, to correct your view, a "light-year" may either be the DISTANCE a particle of light travels in the course of a year, at the rate of 186,234 miles/second squared, OR the number of clock-ticks that particle takes to travel that distance at that rate. ie., "Total Miles Traveled divided by the speed of light squared."

        Time, distance, and rate of speed are all relative to each other, much like energy, mass, and time are relative to each other.

        You can't have one without the others.
        These are all UNIVERSAL Laws. You can't change them to suit your whim or misunderstanding.

        Donald L McDaniel
        • My friend...

          Please excuse my syntactical error.
          I should have stated "the light year is a measure of distance."

          And it is. It is a measure of distance, and not time.

          Your long winded response tries to skirt around this fact by talking about time. The definition of a light year came about out of our desire to express long distances in more manageable units.

          1 Light year = 9.4605 x 10^12 km = 5.8785 x 10^12 miles

          The basic unit of time we use is the second. Other derivations are: the minute, the hour, the day (mean solar and siderial), the year.
        • minor correction

          Light travels at 186,000 per sec... the square funtion is when something is accelerating , as in you drop a ball from an airplane,, then it travels/accelerates at a rate of 32 ft sec per sec, until a balance is reached between risistance and acceleration. Takes along time if your resistance is photons and not gas.

      • Time/Space

        That, Tg, depends on how you look at it. How old
        would you be if you travelled at light speed to
        AlphaCentauri and back? I'll tell you; not as old as
        everyone you left behind. For you time would have
        essentially stood still while on Earth 8 years would have
        passed. You would be 8 years behind everyone else in
        technology and life experience.

        So yes, Light Years is as much a measurement of Time
        as well as Space.
        • Continuing the entertaining off topic discussion

          8.7 years, actually, assuming the turn were instantaneous. Each trip would set you back 4.35 years, since that is the time it would take you to travel that distance. This assumes you can be completely turned to energy and achieve the speed of light, and then could be turned back to normal matter.

          But that has nothing to do with the price of milk.

          A light year is defined as the [b]distance[/b] light travels (in vacuum) in a year. This unit was defined by astronomers to express long distances in more manageable units. The IAU uses the Julian year (365.25 days).

          It's a definition... a unit conversion...

          For the love of God, open a book.
          Go to the library. Look it up in Britannica. Google it. Use whatever reputable source you want, but look up some references. It's well documented...
          • Re: "For Gods' sake...

            I give up, friend. Your mind is closed to anything but what
            your Astronomy Professor taught 90 years ago.