updated 11:35 am EDT, Thu July 5, 2007
Apple Touch Mouse Patent
Apple today was shown to have filed a US patent that may point towards the future of its desktop mice. Originally submitted in March 2006, the patent would use a variant of the multi-touch concept behind the iPhone and apply it to a hand controller. An optical sensor built inside the mouse would map the surface and recognize contact from the user's hand based on changes in the image. Information would then be translated to a flat grid in software that the computer can use to recognize the user's intent, the patent says.
Using an image-based system would eliminate the problems of most mice with touch-sensitivity, Apple says. Instead of limiting touch to a specific area of the mouse and usually limiting input to a single point, the optical sensor could potentially cover the entire mouse surface and recognize multiple fingers. This adaptation would allow the mouse both to recognize common mouse functions such as left- or right-clicking but also gestures, such as a pinching motion for zoom (similar to the iPhone), swiping movements for scrolling, or circular movements for rotation.
The technology would also have the side benefit of greater customization. As the system could in theory recognize particular hands, it could change to a control profile simply by examining the shape and potentially the fingerprints of a user. Experienced users could also change or add controls through a software control panel.
Apple does not give clues as to whether or not it will implement the technology in a shipping mouse but notes that the patent favors unibody mice such as the Apple Mouse and the Mighty Mouse, which include seamless surfaces on the inside and out that are well-suited to image sensors.