Apple granted patent for gimballed scroll wheel
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Apple granted patent for gimballed scroll wheel

Apple has been granted a patent (number 8274479) by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for a gimballed scroll wheel. An input device that includes both a movement detector, such as mechanical switch, and positional indicator, such as touch pad touch screen, and/or touch sensing housing is disclosed.

These two input devices can be used substantially simultaneously to provide a command to the device. In this manner, different commands can be associated with depressing a moveable member in different areas and a single moveable member can perform like several buttons.

Here's Apple's background and summary of the invention: "Several kinds of input devices are known for performing operations in a computing device. Some examples of input devices include buttons, switches, keyboards, mice, trackballs, touch pads, joy sticks, touch screens and the like. Each of these devices has advantages and disadvantages that may be taken into account when designing an input apparatus for a computing device. The operations generally include moving a cursor and selecting items displayed on a display screen. The operations may also include paging, scrolling, panning, zooming, etc.

"Some input devices are better configured to perform certain functions than other input devices. For example, touch pads and touch screens are useful for providing location information and buttons are useful for indicating selections. Since most computing devices perform several different functions, a combination of different input devices that are able to provide input in different manners is often desired.

"In addition, many computing devices are designed to be portable, for example, media players, remote controls, personal digital assistants (PDAs), cellular phones, etc. Designing input devices for these portable devices presents some unique problems. For example, there is typically a push to increase the ability and, thus, the number of functions that these portable computing devices are able to perform.

"As the number of operations that these portable devices perform increases, the number of controls desired to control these operations and the complexity of these controls also typically increase. A competing concern is that there is also pressure to make portable computing devices smaller, and thus, more portable. However, as the size of these devices decreases, the amount of space in which to locate input devices also decreases. Accordingly, a need exists for compact input device configurations that can be used to control a variety of different functions in a variety of different manners.

"Described herein are exemplary embodiments of devices, including computing devices, that use at least two different input devices substantially simultaneously to generate a single command. One example of two different input devices may include a movement detector, such as a mechanical switch, and a position indicator, such as a touch pad or touch screen. By using such different input devices in combination, the number of operations that can be controlled by these two input devices can be increased. In addition, the benefits associated with each of these two different input devices can be used while making the command. These input devices may also be layered, one on top of the other, further decreasing the amount of space on a device used by the input devices.

"In some embodiments the input device may include a movement detector, such as a dome switch, placed under a platform that includes a position indicator. The device can then use the movement of the platform in making selections. Since this movement can be felt by a user of the device, this configuration allows the device to give tactile feedback to the user while the user is making a selection. This tactile feedback can further be improved by configuring the device to provide a "click" sensation when the platform is depressed.

"When the platform is depressed or otherwise moved by a user's finger (or stylus or other device), a movement detector can detect this movement. In this manner, the platform operates as a button. In some embodiments the entire platform may be depressed. In other embodiments, a portion of the platform may be depressed, causing the platform to tilt or "gimbal."

"A position indicator can be configured to indicate the position on the platform that has been acted on by the user's finger or other device. Examples of a position indicator include a touch pad and a touch screen. The touch pad or touch screen can be located directly on the platform.

A processor can then be configured to generate a single command that is dependent on both the input from the movement detector and the input from the position indicator. In this manner, different commands can be associated with depressing the platform in different locations, enabling a single platform to provide the functionality of multiple buttons.

"Unlike a touch pad or touch screen or non-mechanical sensor alone, this configuration allows the user to receive the tactile feedback associated with buttons while making selections. Further, the number of mechanical movement indicators and the amount of space on a device used for issuing selections can be decreased.

"Embodiments of an input device may include a platform suspended on a single flexible member. The flexible member may, for example, be in the shape of a bubble that presses the platform against a housing. The flexible member allows the platform to be tilted 360 degrees about an axis. A movement detector can be configured to detect the movement of the movable platform relative to the housing. The platform also may include a variety of components including a position sensing device to detect the position of a user's finger on the platform when the platform is tilted or depressed.

"Examples of devices that may use the input devices described herein include media players, desktop computers, laptop computers, keyboard units, personal digital assistants (PDAs), cellular phones, and remote controls."

The inventors are Christopher D. Prest, Fletcher Rothkopf and Richard Hung Minh Dinh.


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