Apple makes a move for in-car dashboards and infotainment with 36 new patents


Apple has been granted a slew of patents covering man-machine interfaces to improve car instrumentation and telematics. Combine that with Apple’s discussion of iOS 7 in the car at the June World Wide Developer Conference and you’ve got an ambitious program to gain market share in the car, just as Microsoft has tried to do with its Sync joint venture with Ford and variations of the Windows CE/Automotive operating system. Will this cause automakers to renew their love affair with Apple? Block them? One thing’s for certain: Discussions continue to rage internally as automakers struggle to build infotainment interfaces that work.

Apple received Patent No. 8,482,535 for a “programmable tactile touch screen displays and man-machine interfaces for improved vehicle instrumentation and telematics.” The core technology covers the center stack, the area of the dashboard between the driver and passenger, and an area onto which images are projected, most likely by an LCD display. Other features include tactile feedback, a head-up display in the armrest, screens that respond to laser pointers, and a camera that detects the driver’s head position.

If this sounds like a visit to Disney’s Epcot Center where you see a display from 10 years ago projecting what technology will be like 15 years from now, there is a reason. Apple says the patent filings build on work and a “multitouch” patent filing dating to 1992 by Canadian inventor Timothy R. Pryor. Apple says it has rights to the original technology and patent, “Method for providing human input to a computer.”

The screen described in the patent might have ridges and indents to guide the driver’s fingers while still keeping eyes mostly on the road. The patent also discusses transparent knobs and sliders overlaid on the screen; they illuminate when they’re needed, then go dark.