Illustration of Apple's new force sensor concept.
Feb 03 2014

Force Sensor Patent Application Promises Better iPhone, iPad Touch Screens

Apple patent filing could result in the improved performance and accuracy of its mobile device displays.

Wearable technology such as Google Glass may be the next frontier when it comes to mobile computing, but in today’s world it is the smartphone and tablet computer that are still king. So it should come as no surprise that manufacturers such as Apple are always looking for ways to improve the performance of their current crop of mobile devices.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s recent patent application, titled "Gesture and Touch Input Detection Through Force Sensing," demonstrates one way to do just that. As shown on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, the application outlines a method for increasing the sensitivity of touch screens, thereby making them more accurate.

How would it do that, exactly? By adding at least three force sensors to the screen to better distinguish particular kinds of swipes and improve how mobile devices differentiate unintentional gestures from real or intended ones.

According to the patent application, a computing device such as an iPhone or iPad configured to recognize a user’s input would include “a touch interface in communication with the processor and configured to detect a touch signal corresponding to an object approaching or contacting a surface, and at least three force sensors in communication with the processor and configured to detect a force signal corresponding to an object exerting a force on the surface.”

As the image taken from the patent application shows, the force sensors wouldn’t be placed on or buried underneath the screen. Rather, they would be located at the corners of the device. From there, the closest one would determine the pressure of a touch and the force or pressure it places on the display. The patent calls this the “force centroid,” which is then analyzed to determine if it should be treated as a single, multitouch or accidental gesture.

While the technology described is a clear match for smartphones and tablets, the patent application also mentions notebook computers, digital music players, portable gaming stations and the like as computing platforms that would benefit from force sensors.

Apple recently announced record fourth quarter sales of its mobile devices, moving 51 million iPhones and 26 million iPads. It also sold 4.8 million Macs.

U.S. Patent Office