Apple Files for Gesture-Based Data Transfer Patent

Apple has applied for a patent on a way of using physical gestures — both on a touchscreen and gestures involving the entire device — to initiate data transfers between devices. The patent application centers around the idea of combining gesture-based commands with “physics metaphors” that then give intuitive feedback to the user to demonstrate progress and success for the task.

A picture speaks a thousand words, as the saying goes, and in this case those thousand words will describe the idea far more succinctly than we could do so with ten thousand:

Apple Patent Figure

Two figures from Apple’s patent application
(Click the image to view a larger version)

In the figure above, the user has an iPhone with a bunch of files he wants to transfer to an iPad. He shakes his iPhone to initiate the file transfer and then “pours” those files into the iPad. Note that the folder icons used in the images to indicate data move on the screen — they shift from one side to the other — one of the “physics metaphors” that Apple believes adds intuitive indicators as to what is happening.

The patent is far more complex than what we just described, but that’s what it’s all about at its heart. There’s A physical gesture to start a data transfer combined with intuitive feedback to let you know that it is happening or that it’s finished.

In addition to visual metaphors like the one described above, the patent also includes the idea of providing audio signals to indicate progress on a task. For instance, an iPhone could play the sound of a vacuum cleaner to indicate that it was “sucking up” data from another device. One could surmise that pouring noises could accompany the pouring metaphor shown above, too.

The application also makes it clear that it applies to other forms of file transfer, too. For instance, in the image below Apple demonstrates the idea of using a sliding or flicking gesture on an iPad to fling a file or data to a specific device in a room.

“[Devices] can be equipped with short-range communication systems (e.g., Bluetooth) which allows each device to scan the room and sense the presence of other devices,” Apple wrote in its application. “Each of the devices can include motion sensors, which allow the devices to maintain a local reference coordinate frame. Each of the devices can also include a positioning system (e.g., a GPS receiver).”

Apple Patent Figure

Apple patent application figure

There are other techniques and uses, including broadcasting data to multiple devices, and sending data up to the cloud and out to multiple other devices from there.

This is a patent application, and not a patent that Apple has yet been granted. Even if the patent is granted, there’s nothing guaranteeing that Apple is intending to bring the technology to market or even that it wants to try and do so.

However, the folks at PatentlyApple (who first caught the patent application) noted that this would make a good counter to HP’s “Touch to Share” concept unveiled earlier this year for webOS.

Apple filed for the patent in January of 2010.