Apple filed a patent today with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) which describes a unique Home Button invention that can be used either as a regular button or as a gaming joystick.
The patent demonstrates that Apple is considering ways to improve on the design of the Home Button to be a more useful input device, especially oriented around gamers. Whether it will actually be incorporated into a future iPhone or iPad remains to be seen, especially as Touch ID is already integrated in the existing Home Button, but it would be a welcome feature that would make the company’s iDevices much more user-friendly to gamers.
Background of the multi-function Home Button
The patent states that input devices may have various advantages and disadvantages when utilised for various different purposes. This may relate to how such input devices are constructed and/or operated. For example, computer mice and keyboards may be suitable for operating a word processing application or controlling an Internet browser application, but may be less suitable for operating a flight simulator game. To the contrary, a joystick may be suitable for operating the flight simulator game, but may not be suitable for operating the word processing application or controlling the Internet browser application.
Similarly, touch screens (which may be well suited to applications such as an Internet browser application) may offer some advantages for operating game applications on portable devices, but they may also have shortcomings. For example, a user’s finger may need to cover part of the screen while the user is controlling the game. This may interfere with the user’s ability to see what he is controlling and/or other portions of the game display. Additionally, a touch screen may be unable to provide tactile feedback and the ability to provide tactile feedback during a game may enhance the user’s game experience. Some gamers hold the opinion that realistic game play cannot be fully experienced without joysticks and/or tactile buttons.
Users may desire to use a first kind of input device for various applications and a second kind of input device for various other applications. However, providing multiple different kinds of input devices may be complicated, expensive, and may not be possible within space constraints (such as in the cases of portable devices such as tablet computers or smart phones). Further, providing some input devices, such as joysticks, may expose components of the input devices that project outward to damage and/or otherwise compromising the aesthetics of electronic devices in which the input devices are incorporated. Additionally, providing multiple different kinds of input devices may frustrate other users who never utilize applications that are suited to one or more of the input devices and have to work around those input devices when utilizing one or more of the other input devices.
Button mode and joystick/gaming mode
Apple’s invention covers apparatuses, systems and methods for a multi-function Home Button. An electronic device may include a surface and a multi-function button. The multi-function button may be operable two modes:
In the first mode, part of the Home Button may be flush with the device’s surface or recessed in the surface, and may be able to receive z axis input data.
In the second mode, the input portion may project from the surface and may be able to receive x axis input data and/or y axis input data. The input portion may also be receive z axis input data in the second mode. In this way, the Home Button may be capable of operating as multiple different kinds of input devices at different times.
In other words, the Home Button may have a button mode and a joystick mode.
The patent states that the Home Button head may be recessed when not being used as a joystick, thus avoiding compromising aesthetic appearance of the device, preventing potential damage to mechanisms used to project the input device head, and/or keeping the input device head out of the way when not being used as a joystick.
The following diagram illustrates just how the Home Button would pop up when pushed.
Apple credits Colin M. Ely (Cupertino, CA) and Fletcher R. Rothkopf (Los Altos, CA) as the inventors of U.S. patent application no. 20150015475.
Apple applies for dozens of patent applications every week. Of the most interesting ones recently were an application for a 3D camera and UI patent, and an invention (which was awarded) for flexible electronic devices.
You can read about the most interesting Apple patents every Tuesday and Thursday on Apple Toolbox.
Roland Banks has been passionate about Apple for more than a decade. He started his career at British Telecom’s research division working on collaborative virtual reality environments, before becoming a video streaming specialist at 3 UK where he helped launch some of the world’s first mobile video services.
Roland moved to Asia 4 years ago, where he writes about his passion for all things Apple.