Apple Researching Stylus Concepts with Optical Tracking and Haptic Feedback


macrumors bot
Original poster
Apr 12, 2001

While Steve Jobs famously panned the idea of a stylus for the iPhone at the device's unveiling in January 2007, Apple has continued researching ideas for stylus-based input, if only as part of continued reevaluation of how users interact with their devices and how technology will change those interactions over time. Toward that end, Unwired View highlights a pair of Apple patent applications filed in late 2010 and published today addressing optical and haptic stylus concepts.

Apple's idea for an optical stylus takes advantage of a tiny camera on the tip of the pen that would allow it to track patterns on a device's screen that are invisible to the user's eye. The stylus could also incorporate other sensors such as pressure sensors, accelerometers, and gyroscopes to help determine orientation and movement.
In some embodiments, a stylus is provided with an optical sensor, such as a camera, that is used in determining a location and movement of the stylus relative to a touch screen display of a computing device. It should be appreciated, however, that displays other than touch screens may be implemented in some embodiments. The optical stylus may be configured to transmit the location and movement to the computing device. In some embodiments, the optical stylus may be configured to process and/or filter the location and movement information prior to transmission, whereas in other embodiments, raw data may be transmitted.

Apple's generic iPhone stylus concept with enlarged view of encoding pattern for tracking movement
Alternatively, Apple suggests that it could incorporate haptic feedback to allow users to gain a tactile feel for the content on a device's screen via a stylus. Apple has researched haptics for quite some time, and the patent application published today describes how a haptic actuator embedded in the stylus could receive signals from a device to help users gain a tactile feel for the context of their onscreen input.
Generally, input devices do not provide haptic feedback to a user in response to interactions with the input device. The user can typically only feel the rigid surface of the touch screen, making it difficult to find icons, hyperlinks, text boxes, or other user-selectable input elements on the display. An input device capable of generating haptic feedback may help a user navigate content displayed on the display screen, and may further serve to enhance the content of various applications by creating a more appealing and realistic user interface. "Haptic feedback" may be any tactile feedback. Examples include forces, vibrations, and/or motions that may be sensed by the user.

Apple's concept for stylus with haptic feedback
There has been essentially no evidence that Apple is seriously looking at incorporating a stylus into its products, but it remains clear that the company is thinking about how such pen-based input could be used in novel ways.

Article Link: Apple Researching Stylus Concepts with Optical Tracking and Haptic Feedback


macrumors 6502a
Feb 26, 2011
That screen in the 'iPhone' in the patent drawing looks so large with smaller dock connector!

And stylus? :eek: Peace be upon Steve Jobs!


macrumors 6502
Apr 19, 2008
Please Apple bring on an option for a Stylus !

This can't happen a minute to soon.

Using your finger is like finger painting for a professional artist or designer. Graphics without a Wacom tablet is like gong back to kindergarden.

I am sure that Apple's patents are a way to get around all of Wacom's tablet patents.


macrumors 604
Oct 5, 2008
iStylus available for $49. :apple:
It would be a cool ideal but I know a cheaper stylus that does a great job for the iPad.


macrumors 65816
May 1, 2005
While I think it's good for iOS devices to have styluses as options, the focus needs to be on providing feedback for touch users. Physical feedback still seems out there, but better use of sound and visual cues should help to keep things smooth and easy to use.

Small White Car

macrumors G4
Aug 29, 2006
Washington DC
Don't care about pens, but I could see this technology being awesome in other ways.

Imagine a day when Final Cut Pro runs on the iPad. It would be awesome to have this tech built into a little piece of plastic that's the size of a match box. That match box could be your 'cut' tool so that you can just use it to slice the video clips.

It's something that could be done with your finger, but you'd have to switch 'modes' or something to distinguish the difference between moving clips and cutting them. But giving yourself a real-world 'tool' you could quickly access features like that with your tool hand while you're moving things around on the screen with your other hand.

And maybe another one could be 'audio levels.' Select a clip and then slide THAT matchbox up and down the screen and it adjusts the audio level no matter what part of the screen you're touching.

I see a lot of potential here...just not with pens, necessarily.


macrumors member
Jan 12, 2009
Stylus still has a use

I've always been amazed how many apps for taking hand notes with a stylus are listed in the business section of the iOS app store. I'd love to have a system wide handwriting recognition system on my ipad.


macrumors regular
Feb 14, 2012
So Steve publicly poo-poo'ed the stylus while authorizing continued research on it internally at Apple? This shows all the Apple fanatics out there that Apple does indeed put a marketing spin on highlighting its product features while internally believing differently.

A stylus with a camera and a haptic actuator will make for an expensive stylus to replace (once you inevitably lose it).

Dangerous Theory

macrumors 68000
Jul 28, 2011
The best stylus is your finger.
Going to disagree here. Do you think the best pen is your finger dabbed in ink? If I want to write on a digital screen (no doubt this is where technology will take us), I want an accurate stylus that mimics a pen as close as possible. However, I don't get all this haptic feedback BS. If you're going the stylus route (as a very useful accessory) then focus on the pen-like experience, please, Apple!
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macrumors regular
May 1, 2012
Macon, GA
Why not exactly?

If Apple wants to move everyone towards tablets and touchscreens then they will need a stylus. Just like the massive number of professionals Wacom has catered to for decades.

Ah, wait, I said professionals. Silly me.
I think Apple should make a stylus, one for creative artists and a stylus pen for writing. I know Steve hated the thought of using a Stylus on his iOS devices, but the truth is, I use my iPad for taking notes a lot and have a Stylus, if they had one with a pen tip for writing, I would never use paper to take notes ever again. I am NOT saying add a compartment and ship every iOS device with these Stylus', just give us some options, just like for cases for our iOS devices :)


macrumors 6502a
Sep 6, 2006
Atlanta, GA
Why not exactly?

If Apple wants to move everyone towards tablets and touchscreens then they will need a stylus. Just like the massive number of professionals Wacom has catered to for decades.

Ah, wait, I said professionals. Silly me.
Why.... if anyone wants that type device Wacom has them.


macrumors 604
Nov 5, 2009
I don't care for a stylus on an iPhone, but I think it will be great for a bigger screen size like the iPad. You could write notes perfectly on it.


macrumors regular
May 8, 2011
I want a pressure-sensitive stylus for an iPad so that drawing on an iPad actually makes sense.


macrumors 6502
May 26, 2011
A stylus would be so awesome! To jot down a quick note, to doodle and it's more accurate too! Would love to have one for the iphone or iPad. :D

I really like the Galaxy Note's stylus. I think stylus would add more functionality to the device. Apple's probably going to sell this :apple: stylus individually.. it would be nice it it came with the iphone/ipad. :)
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