Apple Patents an ‘Active Stylus’ for Touchscreen Devices

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Apple has filed for a patent on an "active stylus," a stylus with an active electronic component intended to reinvent the way styli work. The invention features a stylus with an electrode in the tip that communicates directly with the touchscreen device in question.

Active Stylus Patent Figure

Patent Figure for an Active Stylus

Apple's abstract described the invention as a stylus that, "includes an electrode at a tip of the stylus; and powered circuitry coupled to the electrode and configured for capacitively coupling the electrode with a capacitive touch sensor panel."

The powered circuitry can then, "include drive circuitry configured to output a drive voltage at the electrode and/or sense circuitry configured to sense a voltage received at the electrode."

Active Stylus Patent Figure

Another Patent Figure

The filing argued that current styli are inherently inaccurate, and that its invention would improve the way they work. "When a stylus has been used as an input device in a capacitive touch system, the stylus has traditionally been finger-like in nature," Apple wrote in its application.

The patent wasn't filed in Apple's name, but PatentlyApple discovered the patent and noted that the two inventors named in the filing are both employees of Apple. More specifically, Engineering Manager Jonah Harley and Hardware Engineering Manager David Simon are listed as the inventors, and Apple can take assignment for the patent before it is granted.

Apple files many patents for technologies that may not actually come to market, but PatentlyApple also noted that the practice of filing patents under the names of its engineers until the last minute often goes along with products that do eventually ship.

The Mac Observer Spin The Mac Observer Spin is how we show you what our authors think about a news story at quick glance. Read More →

Spin: That choice of wording—"finger-like in nature"—to indicate that styli need to be improved is somewhat ironic. Apple has publicly derided the need for a stylus because most people have ten styli on the ends of their hands in the forms of fingers and thumbs.

Indeed, Apple has been so adamant about the evils of styli the company banned them from its fleet of Apple Store retail locations, even though they were popular accessories.

On the face of it, Apple has it right. Devices that need a stylus are problematic and the sign of poor design for a general purpose device. The proof of that is the success of first the iPhone and later the iPad.

At the same time, there are folks for whom a stylus is required. Artists spring to mind. Try painting the Mona Lisa with your fingers. There is a difference between wanting a stylus to draw and the idea of needing a stylus to use your iPad, and in our mind, Apple has been obnoxiously stubborn about not recognizing the distinction.

Hopefully this patent filing indicates a change in attitude. More importantly, we hope that it brings with it a step forward in usability at the same time.

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Lee Dronick

Let us not assume that the device is intended for an iPhone or iPad. Maybe it is for something bigger.


And if Apple owns the best stylus patent, Apple can always just sit on it (i.e., dog-in-the-manger it) like GM is fabled to have sat upon the “100 m.p.g carburetor” throughout the last century.

other side

“Apple has been obnoxiously stubborn about not recognizing the distinction.”

More legacy from the Steve Jobs era.


A pressure sensitive stylus for artwork would be something I could really use That would be great.

A stylus for just using the iPad or iPhone - yuck.

Ronald J Riley

There is lots of prior art for this.  It is a typical Apple patent, so narrow it is probably not valid coupled with Apple’s biggest strength, blic relations hype.

What amazes me is how many people fall for Apples hype.

Ronald J Riley

There is lots of prior art for this.  It is a typical Apple patent, so narrow it is probably not coupled with Apple’s biggest strength, public relations hype.

What amazes me is how many people fall for Apples hype.

Consumers need to wise up and by products from companies who do not engineer crippled products with the goal mugging the customer later.

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