Apple finally lands the patent powering the 'Dryft' virtual keyboard for tablets

apple patent virtual keyboard hover sensors typesoft dryft logo
In September 2014, Apple quietly acquired startup studio Typesoft Technologies, which developed a virtual keyboard called Dryft. While the Swype virtual keyboard ruled the screens on smartphones, Dryft aimed to do the same for tablets, providing a natural typing experience and enabling speeds of up to 100 words per minute on the bigger touch screens. Typesoft co-founder and chief technology officer Randy Marsden eventually moved on to serve as Apple’s iOS keyboard manager after the acquisition, and now Apple officially owns the patent that powers the unique Dryft keyboard.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office published on Tuesday a whopping 63 patents recently granted to Apple, one of which is called “Finger Hover Detection for Improved Typing” for virtual keyboards. It was originally filed in April 2014, and apparently obtained through Apple’s acquisition of Typesoft. Marsden is listed as one of the inventors along with Rob Chaplinsky, managing partner at the venture capital firm Bridgescale Partners. Apple officially acquired the patent in July despite the patent going public on Tuesday.

“I am hands-on in developing, testing, and debugging the various algorithms used in Dryft that are breaking new ground in human-computer interface technology,” Marsden’s LinkedIn profile reads. “I manage the product specifications and manage the company’s IP and Patent portfolio. My knowledge in developing Dryft solutions ranges from low-level signal analysis of sensor data right up to higher-level algorithms for language models, pattern recognition, and UI design.”

Dryft is actually a virtual spinoff of Marsden’s previous invention, the physical Cleankeys computer keyboard. The peripheral’s biggest selling point was how easily it could be cleaned, targeting health care scenarios and other “clean” environments. The device didn’t provide moving keys, but touch and tap sensors instead that mimicked the physical typing experience on a flat surface. The company aspect of Cleankeys only remained in business for four years before Marsden co-founded Typesoft.

Apple virtual keyboard patent

Marsden’s patent, now owned by Apple, describes a method of providing home-row keys on a virtual keyboard while the user’s fingers hover just above the screen surface. These are a row of keys fingers rest upon when not in motion, thus the invention enables users to type on a tablet surface without having to look at the screen.

“The location of each of the user’s fingers while hovering and/or resting is monitored,” the abstract states. “Correlation between the hover sensor data and touch sensor data increases the confidence level by which the system can determine which of the user’s fingers were used to select a key. By determining which finger was used to make the selection, the system accurately disambiguates which letter the user intended to type.”

A provided diagram in the patent (seen above) shows an iPad-type form factor and a user typing on the touchscreen diagonally. The keyboard is split into two sections so that the hands aren’t crammed together on the screen, enabling a more fluent typing experience. Additional notes state that the technology will detect the location of the user’s hands, record the “hand print,” and then readjust the virtual keyboard’s position to reside under the hovering fingers.

Of course, the patent depends on a tablet packed with hover sensors as well as touch sensors, vibration sensors, and haptics output. You can read all 31 pages of Apple’s new patent here.

Product Review

The iPad Pro is the best tablet ever. But don't sell your laptop just yet

Apple has unveiled a big redesign for the iPad Pro, slimming down the bezels, adding Face ID, and the ability to attach and charge the Apple Pencil. All of this comes at a high cost however, as the iPad Pro starts at $799.
Computing

Apple MacBook Air vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 6

The MacBook Air was updated with more contemporary components and a more modern design, but is that enough to compete with standouts like Microsoft's Surface Pro 6 detachable tablet?
Deals

19 portable tech gadgets you’ll want to use every day

If you're looking for portable tech to keep you charged up while on the go (or for some great stocking stuffer ideas), we've rounded up 19 must-have gadgets. You'll find everything from a mini gaming controller to a folding Bluetooth…
Product Review

How does the sleek MateBook X Pro hold up to the modern day competition?

Huawei impressed us with the MateBook X, a solid competitor to the 12-inch MacBook that beat Apple at its own game. Now, Huawei is taking a shot at premium 14-inchers with the MateBook X Pro, but it’s not without oddities – like a…
Computing

Need a monitor for professional photo-editing? These are the very best

Looking for the best monitor for photo editing? You'll need to factor in brightness, color accuracy, color gamut support and more. Fortunately, we've rounded up the best ones for you, to help you make an educated purchase.
Computing

HDR monitors are beginning to have an impact. Here are the best you can buy

HDR isn't the most common of PC monitor features and is often charged at a premium, but the list of available options is growing. These are the best HDR monitors you can buy right now.
Computing

Canada’s winters inspired a startup to warm homes with cryptomining heat waste

Cryptomining may be the key to untold riches and the future of currency, but it’s also an environmental nightmare. Heatmine, thinks it has the answer, but it could mean bolting a mining rig onto every home and business in the country.
Computing

You’ll soon be able to scribble all over PDFs on your Chromebook

Chrome OS users may soon be able to doodle all over their PDF documents with the possible addition of a new feature in Chrome OS' PDF viewer. The annotation feature is expected to allow users to hand draw or write over their documents.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.
Computing

Microsoft’s Windows 95 throwback was just an ugly sweater giveaway

Microsoft's "softwear" announcement wasn't what we had hoped for. Thursday's announcement was not the new line of wearable tech or SkiFree monster sweater we wished for. But it did deliver the 90s nostalgia we wanted.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.
Deals

The best MacBook deals for December 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Computing

How to connect AirPods to your MacBook

If you have new AirPods, you may be looking forward to pairing them with your MacBook. Our guide will show you exactly how to connect AirPods to MacBook, what to do if they are already paired with a device, and more.
Computing

Hitting ‘Check for updates’ in Windows 10 opts you into beta releases

Users who are careful about keeping their system updated should watch out -- Microsoft revealed this week that clicking the Check for updates button in Windows can opt you in to testing beta code.