Apple files a patent for haptic feedback that provides multiple forces in multiple locations

Apple intends to expand the use of haptic feedback on its MacBook devices, according to a new patent license document.

Apple has filed the patent with the U.S. Patently Apple. The patent is titled "Laptop computing device with discrete haptic regions," and explains how the MacBook can provide significantly expanded haptic feedback in multiple areas.

It Home has learned that Apple has added the Force Touch trackpad to all of its new laptops, such as the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, since the 2015 MacBook. In addition to being able to detect the amount of pressure on the trackpad, the Force Touch trackpad also provides haptic feedback.

Force Touch is a touch-sensing technology that Apple uses in its Apple Watch and MacBook product lines. With Force Touch, the device can sense the strength of light pressure and heavy pressure and call up different corresponding functions. Apple also says Force Touch is the most important sensing feature since the Multi-Touch was developed.

On the MacBook, haptic feedback is the sensation of giving the user a physical click, while the trackpad is actually stationary. In addition, it can provide useful contextual information in conjunction with the screen content. For example, when moving an option in a document or spreadsheet, haptic feedback can give the user a sense of when it will be aligned with margins or other options.

While haptic technology for the MacBook has so far remained on the trackpad, Apple is now actively investigating how to extend haptic feedback to more areas of the device.

Apple files a patent for haptic feedback that provides multiple forces in multiple locations

In addition to making the technology more common on other devices, Apple says it could make haptic feedback more useful by providing different kinds of haptic feedback in different areas to indicate a wider range of information. For example, haptic feedback can be provided on the left, center, and right sides of the MacBook, and is said to be "imperceptible outside of that area." Apple calls this system "spatially localized haptics."

Some spatial tactile sensations may overlap, but each region has its own independent tactile sensors. These areas may also be able to trigger haptic feedback via user touch input, Apple said. The patent states that "force sensors" could be used to detect pressure inputs, presumably similar to the current Force Touch Trackpad Trackpad.

Apple's spatial local touch may also be more unique than normal haptic feedback, allowing users to clearly "distinguish between different areas of haptic output."

In practical terms, the patent suggests that such a spatially localised haptic system could be used to respond to the force of a user's typing on a keyboard, allowing the user to further confirm that their input has been recorded. Alternatively, local touch can send notifications or other information to the user via unique tactile outputs from either side of the palmstand. Just as Apple uses different alert sounds to display different notifications on the MacOS, haptic technology in space can provide a wide variety of haptic feedback to notifications. In some cases, "multiple tactile outputs may be provided simultaneously" to produce different sensations and "alert the user to multiple notifications."

Apple files a patent for haptic feedback that provides multiple forces in multiple locations

While the patent applications can't be a smoking gun for what features Apple will add to its future products, they can show where the company is currently researching and developing, IT Home has learned. Unlike some of the bizarre and abstract technologies outlined in patent documents, none of these strange patents is likely to hit the market anytime soon. Apple's patent seems entirely plausible, given that the technology is already available on millions of MacBook devices.