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New Patent Application Suggests Apple Tablet Could Have Pen Input

tablet_patentApple (s aapl) apparently isn’t exclusively devoted to the idea of finger-based multi-touch input on all its devices, a recent patent applications shows. The patent application, found by Apple Insider, describes the use of a pen-like stylus to operate an “ink information” input system, and references tablet computing applications for the new tech by name.

“Ink information” refers to handwriting technology, specifically. The patent describes that previous attempts in this field, including in Apple’s own Newton device, have been insufficient to the task in the past. It suggests that the addition of an “ink manager,” a kind of go-between interpretive process, might reduce the occurrence of mistaken or misplaced ink detection.

Here’s the exact wording of Apple’s description of both the problem of ink detection and its proposed solution:

Even systems that attempt to improve this situation by using each stroke to determine the input field anew, such as the Apple Newton from Apple Computer Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., can suffer from failure modes that make the situation difficult for both end users and for application developers. For example, a word that accidentally spans two input fields even a tiny amount (due, for instance, to a stray ascender, descender, crossbar, or dot) may be broken up into multiple sessions, causing misrecognition and invalid data entries that must be manually corrected.

The ink manager interfaces between a pen-based input device, one or more applications (pen-aware or not) and one or more handwriting recognition engines executing on the computer system. The ink manager acquires ink information, such as ink strokes, entered at the pen-based input device, and organizes that information into ink phrases.

Along with the patent description, Apple included an image of the proposed system in the application. The graphic is very reminiscent of prototypes and concepts of the as-yet unannounced tablet computer that has the Apple community bubbling over with excitement. Note the bar at the bottom, which resembles the dock on the home screen of the iPhone. I’d also like to point out that the device looks a lot like a reader, given the scroll buttons at the bottom. Maybe Apple is planning to change the game by making sure its reader doubles as a writer, too.

Ideally, the digital ink and stylus input tech described in the patent would operate alongside touch input. This application will no doubt bring a lot of hope for digital artists hoping to work with the device, for whom pen input is infinitely preferable to touch control. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait long to find out if a pen system makes it into a production device, since the tablet is rumored to be unveiled in the first quarter of 2010.

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