On August 18, 2009, Fortune Magazine named RIM as the fastest growing company in the world with a growth of 84% in profits over three years and far outpacing rival Apple Inc. at that time. In just three short years, RIM's BlackBerry has fallen from Grace and is far behind smartphones running Android and iOS on every front. Yet as one who has followed Apple over a few decades, I know that being beaten in the press can be discouraging but likewise know that companies can resurrect as fast as they descended. Could RIM's team muster the courage to rebound? While only time will be able to answer that question, a few new patent applications from RIM this past quarter shows us that their Research and Development teams are pounding out some new ideas about adding a spiffy new 3D display and user interface for BlackBerry that will take advantage of new tactile features. If RIM is to mount a realistic comeback, then they're going to have to shake things up and be different. Hmm, I wonder where I heard that one before.
RIM Considers 3D Gestures & Tactile Feedback for Future Devices
Jumping right into the heart of Research in Motion's patent applications we see Patent Bolt's graphic below which combines RIM's patent figures two and three. Together they represent a portable electronic device that includes a touch-sensitive display, a plurality of piezoelectric patch transducers disposed beneath the display, and a controller in communication with the plurality of transducers. The controller is configured to switch each of the transducers between a tactile feedback mode to provide tactile feedback via the touch-sensitive display, and an object detection mode to provide acoustic detection of a contactless position of an object relative to the device.
A device including a touch-sensitive display with active haptic feedback can utilize piezoelectric transducers to generate the sensation of touch feedback when the user touches the display.
By using four or more acoustic port/transducer pairs will provide additional 3D accuracy, states RIM's filing. In patent FIG. 4 shown below, the transducers (210) enable triangulation of the contactless position of the object 218 above the display. In patent FIG. 4, a time of flight f1 from a first transducer is shown to include a first component from the acoustic port 214 to the object 218, and a second component from the object 218 to the microphone 130. A similar two-component time of flight f2 is shown with respect to a second transducer 210. By adding determinations from each of the transducers, an object's contactless positions or locations over time, and thus motion or movement, can be determined with substantial accuracy.
Various 3D Display Technologies Being Considered
One of the technologies that RIM may employ in their 3D display is that which is known as an autostereoscopic display which may use 3D optical components in the display, rather than requiring spectacles to be worn by the viewer. This would enable each eye to see a different image. In another example, a three-dimensional display comprising a holographic display may utilize interference of coherent light to create a light field identical to that which would emanate from an image at a particular depth of perception. Still further examples of technologies suitable for three-dimensional displays may include volumetric displays, lenticular displays, or free-space displays.
In RIM's patent FIG. 2 noted above we also see a simple illustrative example comprising of a virtual three-dimensional button that presents a corresponding icon "D."
Moving 3D Icons in Different Depths
In RIM's patent FIG. 3 we see an example of smartphone with a 3D display which presents a first group of icons 303 at a first depth of presentation 304 and a second group of icons 305 at a second, different depth of presentation 306. The difference in distance between these two depths of presentation 304 and 306 can vary according to design considerations of the user interface and electronic device. In particular, the distance can be as subtle, or as striking, as may suit the needs or opportunities as tend to characterize a particular user interface.
RIM goes on to state in their filing that movement of icons can occur in a visually step-wise manner if desired. Using this approach, the icons will simply disappear from one depth of presentation and appear at another. Using another approach, a more fluid, animated technique can serve to cause the icons to visually appear to traverse a particular path when moving from one depth of perception to another. When using an animated path approach, the path can comprise a shortest-distance between the two depths of presentation or can represent a path having some shape of interest. For example, and referring momentarily to the illustrative example provided by FIG. 4, the path 401 could comprise an arc, circle, or other non-linear shape of choice.
Research in Motion's January 2011 patent filings under serial numbers 015066 and 010539 hold a lot of potential for RIM's BlackBerry if their teams could pull it off just right. And like most new inventions, it's always about market timing. RIM doesn't have the luxury of daydreaming about these cool features because Apple already has some very in-depth patents on adding 3D capabilities to iOS as it does for multi-tiered haptics.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, Research in Motion has some very cool new ideas on tap. Yet it all boils down to it being a race as to who will bring these ideas to market first and best. As consumers of technology, we all benefit if these competitors challenge each other to the nth degree. It means that we get to see cooler and cooler technology advances coming to our next generation smartphones and tablets year in and year out. On that note, today's revelations are nothing but positive.
The Patent Bolt blog presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. About Comments: Patent Bolt reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Haptics in the News Today: The Verge Reports "Disney researchers use electrical charge to create virtual textures."