Apple trackpad
Future MacBook track pads and iPhone touch screens could simulate textures of materials and temperature, according to a patent application from Apple published on Thursday. Reuters

By introducing Force Touch to the Apple Watch and MacBook, Apple Inc. provided another way for its customers to interact with a touch screen or touchpad interface, as the feature can distinguish between a light tap and a deep press. And in the future, the company could expand Force Touch so that its customers can also feel different textures while using a track pad or touch screen.

Apple Touch Surface Invention
A laptop (left) and a diagram (right) of technology used to simulate textures on a trackpad or touch screen. USPTO/Apple

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published a patent application on Thursday from Apple titled “Touch Surface for Simulating Materials.” It describes a system that could enable a track pad or touch screen to vibrate and change temperature, simulating the texture of different materials as well as their thermal conductivity, such as the sensation of a hot piece of metal. To simulate the different textures, Apple would use an actuator that can create vibrations by moving both vertically and horizontally. To create warm or cold sensations, it would use a temperature control device, such as a peltier device in an electric cooler.

Apple Surface Invention
A flowchart (left) how the invention would simulate a material and a side view (right) of vibration actuators which can move both horizontally and vertically. USPTO/Apple

In some implementations of the invention, Apple could also use a thin layer of diamond applied to a touchpad or touch screen by a process called chemical vapor deposition. The diamond layer would provide thermal conductivity that could exceed that of copper by up to five times.

The invention could be used for a number of devices, including the iPhone, iPad, iPod, MacBook, Apple Watch, a kitchen appliance and even automobiles, as described by Apple’s patent application. As with many of Apple’s patents, it’s unknown if or when it has plans to use the technology in future products. However, there are rumors that Apple could introduce the expanded Force Touch in the so-called iPhone 6S.

Since as early as 2011, the company has explored ways to advance touch technology through the use of haptics, or force feedback, according to Patently Apple. And several companies, among them Disney Research and Microsoft, are also exploring ways to simulate textures on a touch display, Apple Insider notes.

Apple first filed its Touch Force patent application in October 2013 and credits Apple engineer Paul Puskarich for the invention.