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Apple Inc. Files Its Most Ironic Patent Yet


Defying the central intent of the first iPhone, Apple patents a stylus for mobile touchscreens.

"Who wants a stylus? You have to get 'em, put 'em away, you lose 'em. Yecch! Nobody wants a stylus. So let's not use a stylus."

That sweeping, provocative disapproval of rubber-tipped pointers was expressed seven years ago by former Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs during the grand debut of the original iPhone. Valuing simplicity above all else, the Cupertino chief condemned the notion of extra accessories in order to operate a smartphone.

"We're going to use the best pointing device in the world," Jobs announced. "We're going to use a pointing device that we're all born with -- born with 10 of them. We're going to use our fingers."

It was with this presentation that the age of the smartphone began and the era of the stylus ended. Seven years later, it seems inconceivable to carry, wield, and store an extra tool in order to use a smartphone or tablet -- save for a few tasks typically done by graphic designers and artists. And even then, day-to-day usage is primarily controlled by those God-given pointers.

But the stylus might be making a comeback, and the folks behind the resurrection are the very ones who killed it in the first place. Spotted by Jack Purcher at Patently Apple, Cupertino has filed over 22 separate patents for a smarter, souped-up stylus dubbed the "iPen."

Of course, it being an Apple product, the iPen isn't just a pointing device, but could also serve a number of different applications. With modular expansion, the longer base of the stylus can act as a power source, camera, audio recorder, communication circuit, gyroscope, accelerometer, laser pointer, projector, or be used for similar purposes.

The projector, for example, could potentially display an image on the writing surface, allowing the user to essentially trace the stylus across the projected image -- a boon for designers who have to touch up images for Web and print publications. Not only that, the projection circuitry would detect the motion of the stylus and readjust the placement of the projected image, keeping it locked into place relative to the surface.

But even just as a stylus, the iPen would go above and beyond.

According to the patent, the gyroscope and accelerometer would work together to detect non-surface interaction or "air gestures." So in between scribbles and scrawls, a user may wave the iPen in the air as an on-screen command, perhaps to turn a page or switch between windows. Apple indicates that the stylus could act as a mouse using these air gestures.

Connectable via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and possibly cellular networks, the iPen may follow in the footsteps of recent iWatch rumors and could be recharged by wireless induction. (See: Apple Exploring Solar and Wireless Charging for Its iWatch, Sources Say.)

But the question remains: Why a stylus and why now?

As mentioned before, the iPen -- although seemingly very versatile and capable -- would suit the needs of a smaller but hard-core group of professionals. It wouldn't necessarily be intended for the average lot to check emails and send out tweets. But in the workplace, the possibilities are pretty extensive. Powerpoint presentations would be more dynamic. Airbrushing a fashion ad could go a lot smoother. Simultaneously scribbling down notes while recording an interview would be confined to one tool.

So while most of us may have moved on and thrived in a post-stylus era, Apple might cater to the interests of dedicated professionals by outfitting an outmoded tool with some whiz-bang features.

It just has to defy the dogma of the almighty Steve Jobs in order to do it.

See also:

Google Launches Chromecast's Most Important Phase

Microsoft: The Satya Nadella Era Begins

Apple Exploring Solar and Wireless Charging for Its iWatch, Sources Say
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