Microsoft has patented a tactile pointing device reminding of the TrackPoint pointing stick which has been present in IBM ThinkPads since the mid-1990s.
The device description offered by Masaaki Fukumoto, an interface device inventor working at Microsoft Research, speaks of a gel-based device which can be placed on top of sensor-surface like touch screens.
“The tactile surface is configured to receive an input from a user and the base surface couples the gel-based body to a sensor surface. In at least one embodiment, the gel-based pointing device described herein further includes a sensor for receiving the gel-based pointing device and a detector for detecting changes in at least one of resistance, capacity, pressure, or lateral or vertical position of the gel-based pointing device.”
While such a rubber-pointer for touch screens can be easily lost, it might be very cheap to produce and offer great benefit for certain kind of Apps that require a more precise input that even the smallest fingers might be able to handle.
Even better, as stated in the patent-description, when the gel-based pointing device is used in combination with an optical lens, some or all of the components can be at least partially transparent such that the image sensor can capture imagery of a user's finger (e.g., fingerprint, etc.) and/or an optically patterned film in the tactile surface.
“In at least one embodiment, the image sensor may be configured to recognize and identify a user's fingerprint through the tactile surface , gel-based body, and one or more base layers of the gel-based pointing device.”
The patent has been published some days ago, which however does not mean, Microsoft is going to commercialize it in the near future or at all.
Fukumoto, the inventor of Microsoft´s Low-Profile Pointing Stick, how the device is being called in the patent, has a nice track-record of inventing nice and unique input solutions.
– “FingeRing”: Ring shaped wearable keyboard (1993-1998)
– “UbiButton”: Wristwatch shaped wearable commander (1999-2004)
– “Finger Whisper / Yubi-Wa”: Wristwatch and ring shaped wearable HANDset (1999-2006)
– “ActiveClick”: Tactile feedback for touch panels and handheld devices (2001)
– “CarpetLAN”: Body-electric based indoor wireless(-like) network and positioning system
(with M.Shinagawa, et.al.) (2003-2006)
– Headphone/Earphone shaped EOG detector (with H.Manabe) (2006-2010)
– “PuyoSheet”: Layered gel-sheet for adding “Button-push” feeling to touch panels (2009-2013)
– Aerial Haptic 3D Display (with M.Tsuboi, et.al.) (2010-2011)
– Hands-free VideoPhone (with S.Kimura, et.al.) (2012-2013)
It would be great to see the pointing stick coming to market. Microsoft could just bundle it with its Surface and Lumia products without any significant cost.