The future Apple Pencil could be modular, with new features added through interchangeable sleeves.

Possible future of Apple Pencil with mre controls

Apple is exploring availability of replacement cases for the Apple Pencil, maybe give users a choice of controls, sensors or even extend battery life.

The Apple Pencil line has been accused of being misleading, and it's surprising that the first 2015 model is still on sale, but no one has complained about its battery life. However, you can always improve battery life, and that's one of the elements of a recently published patent application called “Portable Input Devices with Sleeves.”

“Electronic devices that are configured to be held in the hand can be used to collect user input and provide results to the user,” the patent application states. “The portable input device may include a stylus and a removable stylus cover.”

“The I/O capabilities of a portable input device can be split between the stylus and the removable case,” he continues. “The removable case can include haptic output devices and a battery and can be attached to an item without electronics.”

All patent applications do their best to cover every conceivable use case for their proposal, so this application talks about “controllers, handheld controllers, input devices, or handheld input devices” before it even gets to the stylus. But the last part about being attached to a “non-electronics item” is different.

The drawings in the patent application attempt to illustrate this by showing a fork around which such a control sleeve is wrapped. This offering is not like a band that attaches to the Apple Watch, but rather a separate electronic device that works even without being attached to anything like a stylus.

“The sleeve may include conductors for transmitting touch input on the sleeve to touch sensor circuitry on the stylus,” it says, “a deformable member for transmitting forces acting on the sleeve to the force-sensitive tip of the stylus, and visual markers that may be detected by an external camera and used with motion sensor data from the stylus to track a portable input device.”

In short, you could wrap a stick with such a sleeve — and Apple uses the word “stick” — which you then wave. Literally.

“Gestures such as air gestures (3D gestures) using [the device] can include additional input if desired,” Apple says. “For example, a user may control [the system] using hybrid gestures that involve moving the device(s) through the air (e.g., an air gesture component).”

“For example, the inertial measurement unit in device 10 and/or the camera in the device… may detect the movement of the user of the device… through the air (for example, to track a path),” he continues, “in while a sensor… in the device… such as a two-dimensional touch sensor, force sensor, or other sensor 18 detects force, touch input, or other input.”

Excerpt from patent application showing the sensor sleeve wrapped around a plug

So while much of the patent application is about what sounds like a future Apple Pencil, it could also be a way to use technology in everyday items, such as in one of the pictures a fork is shown, and it is impossible to see such a sleeve with motion sensors that determine how quickly someone is eating.

In addition, if you wrap a sleeve with sensors around the utensils, its movements can be tracked using a mixed reality headset , such as Apple Vision Pro.

This patent application belongs to two inventors, including the prolific Paul X. Wang. His previous work includes research on the Apple Pencil, which can change shape depending on the user.

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