back to article Apple in 2007: Who wants a stylus? Apple in 2010: We want a stylus!

Apple is breaking with the beliefs of founder Steve Jobs when it comes to the stylus, if a recently-granted patent is any indication. The company on Tuesday was revealed to have been granted a patent for a stylus-like pen device that could be used with a mobile device or desktop PC. According to the US Patent and Trademark …

  1. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Interesting but...

    So if I read the patent app right, they need to put sensors, a processor, some RAM, and a receiver/transmitter as well as a power source into a stylus. Seems that it won't necessarily be better than one that's plugged into a device (computer, tablet, smartphone) with a cable. Because of the power source it might be rather unwieldy. What is interesting is that it will record or write on anything. Have they some sort of secret miniaturization of all these items that's not been touted yet?

  2. Sampler

    How do you get a patent for this?

    There's tons of these in the market back in 2006 when we were looking for them to automate field data collection (along with 'Smart Paper', PDA's and what was Tablet Computers then).

    Pens, that would track what you've written (and also take pictures) that could then later bluetooth the data to a device (or even do it live to a 'smart phone', which by today's standards would be a 'feature phone') - they were chunky as hell and weighted a brick which I'm sure will all be miniaturised to a sensible degree now but still, how do you patent something that was on the market a good four years earlier at least (seriously, I'd like to know, seems like free money for patent trolling).

    Or do I have to have "Submitted on behalf of Apple" on the form?

    1. Christian Berger


      They use patent lawyers. Patent lawyers will then argue the patent clerk into submission. It's the only reason patent lawyers exist.

      Besides, you can always "invent" new uses for something old and patent those.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Regarding the headline: Apple in 2010: We want a Stylus!

    How can a patent application suggest that Apple want a stylus? If someone working for Apple comes up with an idea that has value, then Apple would be silly not to patent it. it doesn't mean at all that they plan to have a stylus in their products any more than it means they do not want to have a stylus in their products.

    Perhaps it could be argued that the idea may have come about due to Stylus experimentation, but that is still extreme speculation.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ AC

      It doesn't, but then being completely honest doesn't create sensationalist articles that increase page views!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ AC

        Firstly: It's describing a concept that's been about for ages, just presumably not patented because no-one thought that the idea of using a pen to track movement is particularly novel. The tech /behind/ them may have been and would have been patented, but the general concept isn't.

        Secondly: If they were serious about not using a Stylus in their designs then there'd be no risk to not attempting to patent it, especially with something like this that's existed for a good while. So they're now open to the concept of a stylus- so open that rather than doing it the sensible way where the pen is more or less a bit of plastic they're scrabbling to secure the IP for an inferior solution. This suggests not just a keenness to enter a market but a desperation to enter it.

        1. Tel

          Re: @ AC

          Or they could be using the patent application for something relatively novel but which they have no intention to use as a means of misdirection or simply closing off an avenue of tech that a competitor might want to use.

          In the US, at least, patents aren't about what a company might be about to release as a product in their own right.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: @ AC

            The way the USPTO works, the onus is on the Patent Examiner to find documented evidence of a pre-existing implementation.

            I'm aware of existing 'pens' that require special paper to function... This proposed Apple patent achieves the same through accelerometers, with perhaps some mechanism for preventing cumulative error. I was looking into the state of the art of this tech a couple of years ago - and at the time dead-reckoning alone was unsuitable for applications such as navigation within a building. For writing, I would imagine some software trickery would have to be used, perhaps by taking reference from the flat plane the stylus is used on, to mitigate the cumulative errors of a purely dead-reckoning technique.

            tl;dr: I haven't seen this achieved in exactly this manner before, mainly because cumulative errors creep in very quickly. There may be ways of mitigating these errors, by achieving datum points by proxy.

            1. Philip Lewis

              Re: @ AC Inertial Guidance I think

              This comment inexplicably, or not, reminded me of this ...

              Aircraft Inertial Guidance:

              The aircraft knows where it is at all times. It knows this because it knows where it isn't. By subtracting where it is from where it isn't, or where it isn't from where it is (whichever is the greater), it obtains a difference, or deviation.

              The Inertial Guidance System uses deviations to generate error signal commands which instruct the aircraft to move from a position where it is to a position where it isn't, arriving at a position where it wasn't, or now is. Consequently, the position where it is, is now the position where it wasn't; thus, it follows logically that the position where it was is the position where it isn't.

              In the event that the position where the aircraft now is, is not the position where it wasn't, the Inertial Guidance System has acquired a variation. Variations are caused by external factors, the discussions of which are beyond the scope of this report.

              A variation is the difference between where the aircraft is and where the aircraft wasn't. If the variation is considered to be a factor of significant magnitude, a correction may be applied by the use of the autopilot system. However, use of this correction requires that the aircraft now knows where it was because the variation has modified some of the information which the aircraft has, so it is sure where it isn't.

              Nevertheless, the aircraft is sure where it isn't (within reason) and it knows where it was. It now subtracts where it should be from where it isn't, where it ought to be from where it wasn't (or vice versa) and intergrates the difference with the product of where it shouldn't be and where it was; thus obtaining the difference between its deviation and its variation, which is variable constant called "error".

              And a thanks to the poster where I read it first, whomsoever he/she might have been.

  4. Confuciousmobil

    I bought my daughter a Livescribe 3 for Christmas. I guess Apple will sue them if they get this patent....

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      The Livescribe requires special paper. This Apple patent application is for a stylus that writes on any surface.

      Not the same thing.

      1. NumptyScrub

        The Livescribe requires special paper. This Apple patent application is for a stylus that writes on any surface.

        Not the same thing.

        Exactly the same thing. My motor vehicle used to require a special surface (tarmac) to operate correctly, however I modified it to be able to use any surface (aka put off-road tyres on it). Unless you are arguing that I can now patent the entire vehicle including the engine, drivetrain and passenger compartment, rather than just the tyre, then the concept of "recording stylus" is identical in both applications.

        Apple have not invented an entirely new concept, they have modified an existing concept (LiveScribe) to remove one of the previous restrictions. I would only grant the parts of the patent relevant to not needing special paper (the innovation), and ensure Apple properly pay LiveScribe for the use of their pre-existing technological innovation of "styluses that record movements to replay to computing devices".

        Of course that's not how the USPTO work, they just grant everything and let the courts sort it out.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          > concept of "recording stylus" is identical in both applications.

          One doesn't patent the result, one patents the method of achieving that result.

          If you want to use your car analogy, then it should be one of navigation, not traction: The Livescribe would be analogous to a navigation system that relied upon the roads containing transponders - or the car sensing other objects whose position can be determined, like GPS satellites. The proposed Apple system is analogous to the car navigating by gyroscopes - much like submarines can.*

          I'm not saying that Apple's inertial stylus has never been thought of by anyone before - if the USPTO Examiner is presented with pre-existing documents describing it, he will reject it - only that it works in a different way to the Livescribe. Crayons, Biros and fountain pens all make marks on paper, but they achieve it by different means.

          *Honda introduced an interia navigation system, before GPS was practical for car use:

  5. Stuart 14


    How was this granted? Should I check if anybody has patented a method for opening a door by utilising a handle?

    1. ukgnome

      Re: Err

      Sorry Stuart14 but you have released this into the public domain without first filing for a patent.

      Bloody amateurs!

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Err

      In a world where everyone uses pencils or fountain pens, a patent for a ball-point pen would be valid. They perform roughly the same job, but achieve it in different ways.

  6. gnasher729 Silver badge

    This isn't a stylus to write on a device. This is a stylus to write for example on a sheet of paper and having the results transmitted to your computer. Totally different thing.

    1. Captain DaFt

      "This isn't a stylus to write on a device. This is a stylus to write for example on a sheet of paper and having the results transmitted to your computer."

      In other words; it's an ordinary computer mouse in a different form factor.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Steve Jobs actually said: "As soon as you have a penis, you're dead."

    Everyone gets this wrong, it's an easy mistake to make.

    1. Teiwaz

      The pen is big

      "As soon as you have a 'polo neck', you're dead."

      Too soon?

      The stylus should more proven tech than touch for applications requiring productive work, after all we have been using such a device to interact with tablets for thousands of years,

      And no I'm not either grossly exagerating or suggesting that Ancient Aliens had prior art on feature phones or PDA like devices, I am referring to recording information on clay tablets.

      Of course wit hthe 'ipadification' of education these days, perhaps people will not be taught to write. I see too many people whose handwriting looks like a six year olds. Mine is bad, but bad from the perspective of four years of taking lecture notes bad (so basically, G.P. bad).

      I miss the quite good handwriting input on my old Sharp Zaurus linux PDA, and certainly find the stylus on my Nokia N900 damn useful when doing more than quick lookups or short messages.

      Personally a smartphone/tablet without a stylus that can be slid out of the case to use when needed looses a lot of points on my device scorelist.

      1. LDS Silver badge

        Re: The pen is big

        You're right, and Jobs was utterly wrong. A stylus is very useful for some applications (and not a small list). As long as a device can be operated without it for simple tasks, but still can use one (and especially a good digitizer) for more complex ones, it's a far better device than one without.

        Older PDAs/smartphones may have been too stylus-centric (although most users learned to perform many tasks without using it) because of touch technology limitations and lack of UIs designed with touch in mind, but the lack of more precise input devices in Apple products (and their imitations) greatly limited their usefulness in any task where fingers are too large and not precise enough. As long as they were consumer-oriented devices, or just "displays" for data, the finger was OK. If you want them more productive and useful, a precision device like a stylus is needed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The pen is big

          "(although most users learned to perform many tasks without using it) "

          I kept a "longer than standard" fingernail for precisely this reason ;)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, I meant "as soon as you have happiness, you're dead."

      What was I thinking?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    I see...

    With almost *any* mobile gizmo out there equipped with a camera, why the hell using a stylus to pass content to the mobile gizmo?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: I see...

      Because you can take a photo of a static content. While everything you write/sketch with a pen is something dynamic. You should shoot a video - but it would require more space, and will be far slower to "read". Or you should wait for the end of "creation" to take a snapshot of - if you have time.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple, almost as many about turns as Microsoft...

    July 2010 - Apple CEO mocks larger phones, saying "no one is going to buy that".

    October 2014 - Apple releases 4.7 inch and 5.6 inch iPhone, playing catch up to larger phones.

    October 2010 - When asked about iPad mini, Apple replies that 7 inch tablets are useless and "Dead on arrival".

    November 2012 - Apple releases iPad mini, playing catch up to other 7 inch tablets.

    September 2012 - Apple releases iPhone 5, without NFC because it is not a viable technology. Many other phones are equipped with NFC.

    October 2014 - Apple releases iPhone 6 with NFC (although limited to pay, no file sharing) and a Google Wallet clone. Playing catch up.

    September 2012 - Apple VP says wireless charging is too complicated to give to users.

    October 2015 prediction - Apple will release new iPhone with wireless charging.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple, almost as many about turns as Microsoft...

      To be fair, NFC is pretty useless on pretty much every device other than the iPhone for ApplePay.

      Apple released NFC when after they had spent a long time setting up a massive infrastructure in which it might usefully be employed. That other uses for NFC might exist, none of them are apparently compelling enough to be relevant. Perhaps the Apple ecosystem might benefit from NFC now that it is an integrated part of iOS.

      "We will sell no wine before its time." -- Paul Masson wine company.

      Being first (or colloquially "on the foreskin of technology) is not always an advantage.

      1. Matt_payne666

        Re: Apple, almost as many about turns as Microsoft...

        I would beg to differ, I find NFC very convenient to pair my devices, NFC automatically changes my phone profile (to divert calls and auto respond to messages) when connecting to my car...

        yes, small benefits, but handy none the less - and one benefit that has the added side effect of helping me keep my driving licence...

        that to me is a lot more convenient than holding a phone in a particular way to tap to pay (and I am an avid user of tap payment cards)

      2. Vince

        Re: Apple, almost as many about turns as Microsoft...

        "To be fair, NFC is pretty useless on pretty much every device other than the iPhone for ApplePay".

        I use it every day to instantly connect my Sony Bluetooth receiver to my phone so it plays audio to my Hi-Fi.

        I use it every day if I am reading a page on my Nexus 7 and want to start viewing same page on my Blackberry Passport (or vice versa).

        I use it every day to switch my device profiles and configurations to suit where I am.

        It doesn't sound "useless" to me.

  10. JaitcH

    Apple, a fortune built on ...

    prior art. Just high tech thieves.

    1. Bleu

      Re: Apple, a fortune built on ...


      You are overstating it a little, but I agree that they are a particularly dirty company in the sense you imply ... but they are only one of the complex of US 'national champion' companies, seems the USPTO, like the POTUS, always grants those companies whatever they want.

      Also great hype merchants, seemingly from the Apple II, but real innovation, other than cosmetic (love the look of the eMac), was usually a failure, even St. Steve's NextStep was pretty much a flop, I think it sounds like a rather brilliant design, but much too expensive.

      The crucial innovation that really did cement Apple's rise *was* Jobs insisting on a touch-only interface. I suspect that was more a slap at Scully (sp.?) for the Newton than a genuinely inspired choice on his part.

      It pisses me off, you can't even find styli that are not for the DS now, except the ones for people with fingers too fat for their 'smart' phones. Those styli have no accuracy, thanks to the interface model.

      Snow here.

      Before it is over here,

      Happy New Year to all on the Reg!

  11. ratfox

    "As soon as you have a stylus, you're dead."

    Jobs passed away in 2011, one year after Apple filed for the patent.

    I see what you did there…

  12. Tom 7 Silver badge

    W3.1 had networking in the API

    so I wrote a program that would allow you to draw on a window and replicate and text on a linked computer.

    ISTR someone in the mid 90's made a mouse using ... a ball point pen with sensors and radio mice have been around since pre millenium...

    I used pressure sensitive stylii (on tablets) in the early 80's.

    I'm beginning to think these buggers at apple are a bit new to computing.

  13. DerekCurrie

    How many companies sell styluses for iOS devices?

    What's the big deal here? Apple isn't selling THEIR OWN styluses for iOS devices, therefore they don't like them? Rubbish.

    Apple wants to make a special function stylus of their own? Yes. And the big deal is what?

    Can we stop being silly now please?

  14. AndyDent
    Thumb Up

    That's not a stylus, this is a stylus

    SJ didn't like a stylus for a PDA and I tend to agree, after years of replacing the wretched things when I lost them from my Palm.

    I'm a big fan of alternative devices for input, owning an original IBM CrossPad and many others since.

    This patent is interesting and if any of the 'wits above commenting had bothered to read it, explicitly calls out the need of other devices to use a special background tablet or paper.

    The various pens I researched and blogged about in 2010 either used the Anoto paper (LiveScribe) or some kind of clipboard attachment from which the pen took its location.

    Apple's patent talks about establishing the four corners of the working area then scribbling within.

    I suspect it collides with the Lernstift from VibeWrite but probably pre-dates them.

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