iphonekeyboardOne of the earliest and most constant complaints about the iPhone has been its touchscreen keyboard. While these comments seem to have died down a bit, I still hear from BlackBerry loyalists and inveterate SMS texters that the iPhone keyboard just doesn’t provide enough feedback. Now, it looks like Apple is developing technology to address these concerns in a future device, according to a patent application spotted by MacRumors.

The patent concerns “haptic feedback” using “piezoelectric actuators,” which basically means providing non-visual hints to users about what part of the screen they’re touching. This is particularly useful when you want to use your phone, but it’s inconvenient or dangerous to look at it, like when you’re driving — I used to be a big text message sender while I drove (I’m bad, I know), but now I’ve basically stopped. When I don’t have the feel of a physical keyboard to guide me,  I have to keep looking at the screen to see what I’m typing. Here’s how the patent describes the interface:

The haptic feedback can take any form, including vibration, and can be paired with other non-visual feedback such as audible noise. …

The display screen can be used to present a visual display which includes a virtual button. A haptic feedback response can be associated with the virtual button. The haptic feedback response can be provided while the virtual button is included in the visual display, or in response to a touch event. For example, the virtual button can vibrate when a touch event occurs in proximity to the virtual button. In addition to virtual buttons, the display can include other user-selectable display elements.

For example, the visual display can include a virtual click wheel associated with a haptic feedback response. For example, the virtual button at the center of the virtual click wheel can vibrate at a different frequency than the virtual wheel surrounding it. The virtual wheel and the virtual button at the center can vibrate while they are included in the visual display, or in response to a touch event. By providing dynamic, localized, haptic feedback at the location of the virtual click wheel, the present invention enables a user to find and operate the virtual click wheel non-visually.

MacRumors spotted some other patents highlighting possible improvements to the iPhone, including fingerprint ID and a reader for radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, which aren’t exactly common yet, but may be in the future. See our story on Bling Nation for how RFID could enable you to buy physical goods with a mobile phone.

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