updated 08:00 am EST, Thu November 12, 2009
Apple patent hints tablet not finger-only
Apple's rumored tablet may have the option of a pen for input, a US patent filing published today suggests. The application for a patent on getting ink data from "pen-aware computer systems" shows an example device with slight interface cues from the Newton, such as the bottom icon tray, but with a significantly different design and a different engine. Apple in the description makes clear that the technology would be an improvement on the writing systems implemented in the defunct PDA.
The system mentioned in the patent would revolve around "ink phrases" to capture handwriting recognition. Instead of simply recognizing each individual pen stroke and piecing together the intended words, the approach collects multiple strokes into phrases that are considered all at once. The invention would better recognize writing, by putting the strokes into the context of other data, as well as catch input that doesn't neatly fit data fields.
A proximity system either in the tablet or the pen could be key to the system as it would recognize when the pen has been lifted from the surface to move on to the next word. The system would underpin every app on the tablet platform and remove the burden from apps of having to intercept and decipher pen strokes themselves.
As with many patents, the application has yet to be granted and isn't necessarily an indicator that Apple plans to create a tablet with pen support. The description could potentially apply to an updated version of Inkwell for Mac OS X, and Apple has since 2007 said it prefers pen-free, multi-touch input. However, the patent was originally filed in July of this year and suggests the company is still interested in possibilities for pen computing.