Apple is trying to figure out how to provide haptic feedback to Apple Pencil users. However, one of the challenges it faces is doing so without without causing the entire stylus to vibrate so vigorously that it shakes the user’s fingers and affects their work.
It’s a tricky problem, and a newly discovered patent application has shown that Apple is looking at using subtle “shear forces” − that is, equal forces that simultaneously push in different directions across the width of the stylus, without directly opposing each other − to solve it (via Apple Insider).
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“Improved styluses can produce shear forces that act on a user to provide unique tactile sensations,” the patent application reads.
“For example, a shear device can be included at a grip region of a stylus to provide shear sensations at the user’s hand (e.g., fingers). The shear forces can be unaligned forces that urge one part of the user’s hand in one direction and another part of the user’s hand in an opposite direction or that tend to maintain the other part of the user’s hand in a stationary location.
“The sensation can be targeted directly to the user’s hand, rather than generally across the entire stylus.”
The idea is that shear forces could provide a subtle level of haptic feedback that also help to keep the stylus stable.
As for what sort of feedback such a system would be used for, the patent mentions “information regarding one or more touch inputs that a user has provided, alerts, or status of the electronic device or one or more applications executing thereupon”.
In the document, Apple also delves into the shortcomings of current haptic feedback solutions that are used by some styluses on the market − but not the Apple Pencil.
“Haptic feedback provided via devices with a display surface and/or a touch panel may not convey information adequately to a user when a stylus or other touch-based input device is utilized,” the document reads.
“In such a case, the user may not be directly touching the surface of the device that provides haptic feedback. As such, the user may not perceive the haptic feedback provided on the surface.
“Additionally, some existing styluses may provide haptic feedback generally across an entirety of the device (e.g., stylus). Such configurations may be limited in the type of sensation provided to the user and may require greater power consumption than more targeted types of feedback.”
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Unfortunately, the existence of this document does not guarantee that Apple will actually bring this functionality to the Apple Pencil. The company is, however, certainly looking into it.