updated 09:40 am EST, Tue February 19, 2013
Localizing feedback, distinct cooling system among innovations
A clever way of making sure haptic vibratory feedback is restricted to a specific area, the overall design of the Retina MacBook Pro and the structure-strengthening design of the RMBP's vents have all been given patent protection by the US Patent and Trademark Office. The latter patent complements one already awarded earlier for the asymmetrical fans used in the RMBP to suppress fan noise, while the haptic feedback patent hints at future changes for iOS devices.
The feedback system describes a method using multiple actuators in tandem -- one that creates vibratory feedback as the user touches an area, and at least a second actuator to help limit the first one to just the local area of the actual contact rather than "spreading" to other areas, creating a greater impression of localized feedback. The technique can work with any multi-touch device, and offers a system that is considerably more sophisticated and precise than similar technologies already in use in other handsets.
While not the first haptic patent Apple has been awarded, in combination with previous inventions the new award points to the company's continuing interest in improving the "tactile" sense of software-based keyboards and controls. The technology, if implemented, might enhance both typing and gaming applications -- not to mention significantly improve the assistive technologies of Apple's iOS devices.
The invention award for the Retina display MacBook Pro is credited to most of the design team at Apple, including SVP of Design Sir Jonathan Ive. It covers models that debuted in mid-2012 and created a thinner, lighter casing in part by removing the optical drive -- offloading any optical reading or burning capabilities to remote or external drives.
As a result, the RMBP offered a chassis that measured less than three-quarters of an inch thick and continued the popularity of the MacBook Pro line, despite the steep price increase for the significantly higher-resolution Retina display and lack of RAM upgradability. The MacBook line (which includes the MacBook Air) accounts for more than half of all Macs sold in a typical quarter.
Apple was also granted a separate patent on the venting system for the Retina MacBook Pro, crediting mostly the same inventors. Unlike previous venting systems, the design of the vents adds structural integrity to the overall chassis. When used in combination with the cooling system for the MacBook Pro, the end result is a quieter and more efficient heat-dispersal system even when under load.