Among a bundle of 30 patents granted to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) on Tuesday, there is one item that marks a break with the past in both technical and symbolic terms. This is the patent for the iPen stylus, an interface tool whose patent application was originally filed in 2012. Though visually similar to many other devices produced by other companies, the iPen incorporates fresh technology known as “stylus orientation detection.”
Stylus orientation detection makes interfacing via the iPen a similar experience to working with a pencil or an art marker. Placing the stylus at 90 degrees to the screen surface produces a thin line, while tilting it out of true broadens the line produced, exactly as a calligraphic pen can be used to smoothly apply different widths of ink during the course of one stroke by varying the angle at which it is held.
(Image from Apple USPTO)
Capable of operating in conjunction with any Apple Inc. (AAPL) device that features a touchscreen, the iPen is unusual in several other ways. One is that it provides a haptic experience (that is, one with feedback to the sense of touch) by producing a slight but perceptible vibration while sliding over the screen. The other end of the stylus may function as an electronic eraser, wiping away pixels drawn with the “nib.” Gestures and variable pressure input are among the other functionalities apt to be supported should the stylus ever be physically manufactured.
Apple Inc. (AAPL) eschewed production of styluses for many years due to the personal opinion of Steve Jobs, who was opposed to the devices. Nevertheless, the shift in company policy could be argued to be in the spirit of the company’s maverick founder, who famously saluted misfits, rebels, and “crazy ones” as necessary agents of change.
The break with rules and traditions, even those established by Mr. Jobs himself, is Apple’s characteristic source of success, raising the possibility that the iPen stylus will offer some help in restoring the firm’s fortunes.