With the upcoming release of Apple’s iPhone 6S Plus, there is high speculation that the next generation iPhone may include a “Force Touch” feature, similar to the touchpad on Apple’s Macbook devices. Force Touch would provide iPhone users a haptic feedback, adding another dimension to the user experience.
Of course, the combination of fully-integrated touch screen mobile phones with haptic feedback is not new. BlackBerry pioneered this concept years ago when it introduced the BlackBerry Storm in 2008. The Storm was BlackBerry’s (then Research in Motion) first touchscreen device without a physical keyboard, and it featured the company’s “SurePress” technology that provided haptic feedback. The Storm directly competed with other touchscreen devices available on the market at that time, including iPhone, Palm Pre, and the HTC G1, none of which offered tactile feedback.
Envision IP analyzed BlackBerry’s US patents related to the company’s SurePress technology to determine if Apple may face any freedom-to-operate issues by incorporating haptic feedback into its iPhone device display. We identified at least 40 US patents owned by BlackBerry that are directed towards mobile touchscreens that provide tactile/haptic feedback. These patents relate to screen and sensor manufacturing and components, as well as the use of such feedback for various user operations.
For example, BlackBerry’s US 9,092,057, entitled “Electronic device including touch-sensitive display and actuator for providing tactile feedback” describes a mobile device having multiple disk actuators underneath the touchscreen display that provide feedback to the user.
BlackBerry appears to have patented the general concept of integrating a “click” mechanism with a touchscreen that provides a tactile feedback similar to what a user would experience using a physical keyboard. Its patents in this area have priority dates going back to 2007.
However, Apple not to be outdone, has obtained its own patents related to this technology. For example, US 8,462,133, entitled “Clickable and tactile buttons for a touch surface” describes an iPhone having multiple “click-like” tactile surfaces on the display, as shown below:
We identified 14 US patents owned by Apple that are directed towards force-based feedback specifically for mobile device displays. Ultimately, while BlackBerry was the first to market with a mobile phone touchscreen with haptic feedback features, it will be interesting to see how Apple builds on this concept. With its own patent portfolio, Apple may introduce innovative takes on the use of haptic feedback to improve user experience.
However, Apple may be well advised to carefully review BlackBerry’s patents in the space, in order to mitigate the risk of another round of mobile-patent related lawsuits. BlackBerry is no stranger to enforcing its patents – it recently settled a patent infringement suit against Typo, a company owned by Ryan Seacrest.