Apple patents potential mixed reality finger controls

By William Smith
A new patent from Apple suggests the company may be trying to put the digit back in digital with a finger control for virtual and augmented reality. As...

A new patent from Apple suggests the company may be trying to put the digit back in digital with a finger control for virtual and augmented reality.

As reported by Patently Apple, the newest patent was filed on 26 April 2019, though only published on 23 January 2020. It builds on three similar patents from Apple previously published by the US Patent & Trademark Office in 2019, and may be intended for use in an as-yet unreleased mixed reality headset like Microsoft’s HoloLens

Sensors similar in scale to plasters are said to be able to transmit “haptic” outputs to the fingers they are attached to, allowing the user to ‘feel’ and manipulate virtual objects.

Similarly, the device could also be used to represent real objects in a virtual space, with the patent’s abstract reading: “A touch sensor may be mounted in a finger device housing to gather input from an external object as the object moves along an exterior surface of the housing.”

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While the patent does refer to VR as a possible use, it pushes the so-called “mixed reality” angle also favoured by Microsoft where the real and digital worlds collide, something which has implications for both the future of work and play. A line from the document, for instance, reads: “interactions with a real-world object and the virtual content overlaid on the real-world object may be used as input for controlling the operation of a mixed reality system or other electronic equipment.”

A patent application for a curved iMac has also popped up, signifying Apple’s interest in the trend for new form factors being explored by technology manufacturers globally. Whether it’s Samsung’s Galaxy Fold phone, which folds shut, or Microsoft’s tall, boxy, PC-like Xbox Series X, companies have stolen a march on the innovation associated with Apple and the designs of former Chief Design Officer Jony Ive, who left his role last year. Apple’s 2019 Mac Pro, a throwback to an earlier design, was compared to a cheese grater thanks to its unusual vents.

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