Apple Details A Modular Stylus That Can Capture Handwriting On Any Surface

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Apple has a new patent granted by the USPTO today (via AppleInsider) that describes a new type of stylus in detail, which can capture handwriting from a user, on a variety of surfaces and with a range of writing nibs that let it also write on paper, whiteboards or even an iPad’s capacitive touchscreen.

The stylus design uses accelerometers and other motion sensors to track movement, and activates when it detects its been picked up, pressed to paper or taken out of a slot or holster for better power efficiency. It transmits data either in real-time, or in chunks at timed intervals to preserve battery life (sort of like how some fitness trackers ‘call home’ and sync occasionally with your smartphone so as not to incur the huge power draw of constant wireless connection).

In the patent, it’s described as being able to capture handwriting accurately whether the pen is used on a surface like a table, or against a wall, or even simply in air, thanks to the onboard 3D motion sensors. It can work to reflect writing in real-time on separate displays, allowing it to be used for live rough work in a classroom setting, for instance, or as a central pool of real-time meeting notes for a small group.

The patent includes details of how the stylus could be used with different nibs or pen heads to write on different materials, so that it can be used with ink in notebooks, or with graphite for pencil drawings, or with markers for whiteboards. A capacitive nib would allow it to also work as a traditional stylus for use with devices like the iPad and the iPhone.

Apple’s stylus patent is not new – it was first filed in January, 2010. The tech in the patent might provide a bit of a challenge to execute well, given that Livescribe, a company that specializes in creating exactly this type of thing, still requires additional hardware like specialized notebooks to work effectively. Still, it’s a worthwhile reminder that Apple has invested resources in this direction, especially given that we’ve heard rumors of an upcoming 12-inch version of the iPad, which is something a stylus would complement nicely.