Future Apple devices could change shape to display touch notifications

Instead of getting beeps or pop-ups, notifications could one day alter the shape and texture of an iPhone. Apple Watch, or MacBook Pro, to give touch alerts.

Imagine sliding your finger on the touchpad of your MacBook Pro and noticing that one side of it suddenly feels a little rough. Or while listening to music on AirPods Pro, one suddenly presses slightly more against your ear.

If Apple’s plan is turned into a real product, this could be what happens when you receive a notification. Instead of interrupting what you’re listening to or stopping your work on the MacBook Pro, you. get a subtle indication that your attention is needed when you have a moment.

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“Tactile outputs for electronic device input structures” is a new patent that proposes this type of physical and tactile alert to replace conventional notifications.

“Conventional notifications are temporary alarms or signals, such as an audio or vibration alarm, or temporary displays of a message, such as a text message,” says Apple. “If the user doesn’t reply to the text message, the text message will disappear. Such conventional alert schemes can distract the user or the parties adjacent to the user ”.

“In some cases, conventional notifications can be so distracting that a user turns off the notification capability, resulting in failure to receive urgent or critical notifications,” the patent continues. “Also, conventional notifications can be forgotten if they are not recognized during the term of the temporary notification, as the notification will often be stored among a large number of previous notifications and data.”

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Patent detail showing an Apple Watch with a tactile region

That’s not digging into macOS Big Sur and its backlog of overlapping notifications, nor the way you now have to swipe or scroll very far on an Apple Watch to dismiss a similar stack of alerts. Although it could be.

“Touch output can provide information to a user in a way that is less intrusive and more adaptable to user preferences than conventional methods of providing information to users of electronic devices,” the patent says. “Due to the tactile nature, the tactile output can provide information that does not require the visual attention of the user and / or does not require that the electronic device be within the user’s field of vision.”

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It’s easy to imagine the example of an AirPod surface having a small bump, or your MacBook Pro’s trackpad gaining a slightly raised rough surface. At points in this patent, Apple suggests something similar for the Apple Watch, however, which would cause one side of the chassis to change shape to display this type of tactile alert.

If you’re not likely to spend the day staring at the side of your Apple Watch, however, then you won’t be much more likely to notice when the side away from your skin does something. However, Apple suggests that in addition to altering the bumps or surface texture, this tactile feedback could move.

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“ Tactile output is provided by activating and / or moving one or more tactile features of the electronic device, “says the patent.” The touch features can include one or more movable members, such as an input / output member of an input structure. ”

Future Apple devices could change shape to display touch notifications

Detail of the patent showing how two AirPods could have a tactile region

Which feels close to what Apple already achieves with haptic feedback, especially on the Apple Watch. In this case, however, the idea is that the “touch feature can move along a surface of the device, on or off the surface of the device, rotate, precess, change shape, or some combination thereof.”

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Specific examples Apple The patent includes the AirPods and the trackpad, but also keyboards where the keys are altered. It proposes a tactile notification board that could be added to many different devices to take this feature where it wasn’t before.

In some 26,000 words of patent description, Apple covers every conceivable permutation of this idea, including how a user will or will not be able to see such a superficial change. “In some embodiments, the tactile output may be perceptible to the touch but visually imperceptible, even while provided,” he says.

“In certain embodiments, the tactile output may be visually imperceptible when the tactile output is not provided,” he continues.

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So you may be able to see it, you may not, and if you do, it may or may not be visible along with a physical and tactile change.

There is also the problem of when a user feels, or sees, this notification. If it’s on the side of the Apple Watch, or anywhere that’s not “within a user’s field of view,” there’s the question of how long it persists.

“For example, a conventional notification, such as an audio bell or a buzzer, is normally known to the user and adjacent parties, and requires immediate action by the user to deactivate the notification (for example, mute a phone call) or respond to the underlying content (for example, answer the phone call), “says Apple.

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“In contrast, a tactile output, such as a bump produced on the surface of a mobile phone, can go unnoticed by adjacent parties and, if maintained, can allow the user to delay action,” he continues.

Future Apple devices could change shape to display touch notifications

A part of a MacBook Pro trackpad could become a touch notification region

So the MacBook Pro trackpad, or that tactile notification plate on the side of a device, could alter the shape to indicate a notification, and then remain altered until the user confirms that they have seen it.

All of this means that touch notifications are less annoying, but no less effective, than regular alerts. Except none of this provides a complete solution to the real problem of notifications where the problem is that we get too many.

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Apple’s twice patent refers to the repetition of a notification, but it is specifically a repetition of the same. Apple proposes how a notification could convey your urgency, rather than how it would handle five alerts per minute for the entire workday.

This patent is credited to two inventors, Per Haakan Linus Persson and Steven J. Taylor. The latter has previously been granted a patent for haptic feedback in the Apple Pencil.

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