Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oh, patents! Apple joystick

Copyright © Françoise Herrmann

Are you a computer game buff? Do you miss the joystick experience when playing computer games on your Iphone or Ipad? 

Rejoice! Apple just disclosed a pop-up joystick on January 15, 2015 in patent application US20150015475, titled Multifunction input device!

In a nutshell, this invention is designed to provide users with a pop-up home button! In one mode, the button is flush with the surface of the Iphone or Ipad, functioning as a regular push button. In the other mode the button “pops out” or projects from the surface to give the user a joystick experience for all sorts of computer games, including flight simulators!

The following two patent drawings show a cross-sectional view of the home button with shaft and spring illustrated in the two modes: flush and "proud".  The first mode of the home button is pressed (flush with the surface of the Iphone or Ipad), and the second mode of the home button is depressed (popped-out or "proud", in regards the surface of the Iphone or Ipad). The spring brings the shaft back to the illustrated center position, after the user has tilted it right or left:

For the button to pop out or back flush with the surface of the Iphone or Ipad, the user will have to press on it  beyond a threshold value (i.e. exert a force stronger than 1000 g). In the pop-out mode, the input device is designed for use in 3 directions corresponding to the 3D directions of the Y axis (horizontal), the X axis (vertical), and the Z axis (depth). In the popped back in (flush) mode, the button can only be pressed in the Z axis (depth) direction.  The input device is thus multifunctional as it may work in both conventional push button mode and three dimensional joystick mode.  The picture below shows a regular home button flush with the surface of an Iphone.
Beyond the mechanical aspects of the pop-up bottom which may include a shaft and spring as illustrated above, or a variety of additional implementations such as sensors and electromagnets to activate release of the button, or a telescoping mechanism, the invention also includes the instructions or software readable device for the computer program controlling the operations of both modes of the input device. Media support may include magnetic storage (e.g.; floppy disc), optical storage (e.g.; CD-ROM), read-only memory (ROM), random-access memory (RAM), erasable programmable memory (EPROM), flash memory or other. 

As mentioned elsewhere in this blog (for example for the patentability of the QR code), the only way to patent software or a computer program is via media support or a code-readable device.  This is because, computer instructions or the computer code itself that constitutes software or a computer program, appearing in writing, can otherwise only be protected via Copyright law, which is historically both controversial and inadequate  in this case. 

In any event, keep an eye out for a future generation of your Iphone or Ipad equipped with a pop-up joystick/home button, termed a multifunctional input device.  This invention is patent-pending, even if it is not yet marketed! 

The abstract for US20150015475titled Multifunctional input device is included below for reference purposes:
An electronic device includes a surface and a multi-function input device. The multi-function input device is operable in at least a first mode and a second mode. In the first mode, an input portion of the multi-function input device is flush with the surface or recessed in the surface and is operable to receive z axis press input data. In the second mode, the input portion is positioned proud of the surface (i.e., project from the surface) and is operable to receive x axis input data and/or y axis input data. The input portion may also be operable to receive z axis input data in the second mode. In one example, the multi-function input device may have a button mode and a joystick mode.

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