iPad Stylus
Apple’s new tablet iPad Mini 4 will reportedly not come with any stand-out upgrades when compared to the predecessor. Plus, the iPad Air 3 has been delayed. Reuters/Robert Galbraith

A stylus can be a useful tool for tablets, especially for drawing and jotting down notes. But what they lack is the ability to provide the same sensation as writing on a surface such as paper, canvas or textiles. A new invention from Apple aims to change that.

A patent application titled “Touch Implement with Haptic Feedback for Simulating Surface Texture” was published by the United States Patent and Trademark office Thursday. It describes a stylus which can provide haptic feedback to users whenever it’s in contact with a surface -- such as an iPhone or iPad touchscreen. In some cases the vibrations could correspond to those displayed on a screen. This could be further adjusted based on the position of the stylus and pressure applied on a surface.

Apple Stylus
A composite of diagram and flowcharts of Apple's stylus invention. USPTO/Apple

Apple could use multiple vibration motors to simulate different textures to accomplish this, such as the Taptic Engine in its Apple Watch. The technology enables the watch to provide feedback in the form of a “tapping” sensation instead of the vibrations found in most devices on the market.

In a related patent application, titled “Texture Capture Stylus and Method,” Apple revealed a stylus which could use an image sensor or camera to capture a picture of a surface, which can then be displayed on a device -- such as a tablet. That same image could be also used in conjunction with vibration motors to provide haptic feedback to simulate drawing on a texture. Alternatively the same image-capture stylus could be used to pass over a three-dimensional physical map to create a topographical data to a two-dimensional map on a device.

Stylus Texture
A second Apple patent application points to a stylus that can detect surfaces by using an embedded image sensor. USPTO/Apple

Apple may launch a new iPad in the fall, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Aside from a larger screen and the addition of Force Touch technology, it is also expected to come with a stylus -- a first for the tablet. The iPad Pro was originally expected to launch in March, but it was delayed due to display production problems.

Apple's stylus patents aren't the only way it's experimenting with simulating surfaces. In a patent application published in April, the company revealed it was also experimenting with simulating textures as well as their thermal conductivity, such as the sensation of touching a hot piece of metal.

As with many of Apple’s patent applications, it’s unknown if or when it plans to use the technology in one of its products. The patent applications were filed in January 27 and credit Apple engineers Jason Lor, Patrick A. Carroll, Glen A. Rhodes and Dustin J. Verhoeve for the breakthroughs.