Friday, May 25th, 2012 Posted by Jim Thacker

Apple patents ‘iPen’ haptic stylus for iPad

Apple has filed a patent for a stylus for tablet devices, complete with haptic feedback and a built-in speaker.

The device has been instantly dubbed the iPen by the tech media, probably because (a) it’s a natural thing to do, and (b) that’s what Patently Apple, which broke the story, calls it.

(Actually, as far as we can see, the term never appears in the patent itself.)

In Wacom territory
But regardless of what the device is – or will be – called, the drawings accompanying the patent show a powered stylus capable of communicating with an iPad or similar tablet device.

An actuator in the stylus delivers haptic feedback – which is a bit of a catch-all term, but the patent gives the specific example of matching the sensation of moving the stylus tip across a rough or smooth surface, so you have to imagine we’re in Cintiq territory.

The drawings also show a built-in speaker “emitting different sounds for emulating a pen or a paintbrush”, which would be an interesting additional bit of realism.

Other than that, the patent is fairly vague about details: the stylus may have a capacitative tip, or a “may have a blunt, as opposed to a pointed, tip, or may take the form of a ball”.

But when will it become a real product?
But before you consider ditching your Wacom tablet, it’s worth rembering that there’s a long way to go between the patent – which was originally filed in 2010 – and a commercial product to rival it.

As a quick search of Patently Apple shows, the company already has a string of patents relating to smart pens and similar technologies, including a second patent granted yesterday, which shows an optical pen capable of reading QR-type codes off a tablet’s screen.

There is also the matter of the existing iPen: also an active stylus device, albeit one without haptic feedback, manufactured by Cregle, Inc.

We’d imagine the resulting manufacturing and trademark issues will keep Apple busy for a while – and that’s if it decides to release the stylus as a physical product at all.

While you’re waiting, you can content yourself with the other powered iPad styluses available, including Byzero’s Studio Pen, and a whole range of unpowered devices – including a very good one made by Wacom itself.

Read more detailed discussion of the stylus on Patently Apple

Read the full text of the patent on the USPTO website